tek's rating:

Pixels (PG-13)
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Caution: spoilers.

This came out in 2015, but I didn't see it until 2018. I must say, the premise of the movie is utterly redonkulous, which is why, before I saw it, I assumed I'd put my review in my "weird movies" section. After watching it, I thought I might put it instead in "comedy," but ultimately I decided to stick with "weird." Anyway, it did alright financially, but it got almost universally negative reviews from critics. I had no idea whether I'd like it or not; I thought it stood pretty much an equal chance of either being terrible, or hilarious. As it turns out, I liked it a lot. I honestly found it really funny (if not actually hilarious), and despite the utter absurdity of it all, I found it oddly believable, in a way. I mean... obviously the nature of the alien invasion that happens requires a far greater suspension of disbelief than usual, for science fiction movies (which is saying a lot), but I found the way all the characters reacted to the situation as realistic as possible, if such a situation ever happened in real life. Sort of. Man, I don't know, I'm just saying the movie could have been a lot more ludicrous than it was.

So. It begins in 1982, with 13-year-old best friends Sam Brenner and Will Cooper riding their bikes to the grand opening of the local video arcade. Sam turns out to be a natural at the arcade games, despite never having played them before. He can just see patterns in how the games work. Will encourages him to try out for a video game tournament. The emcee of the tournament is played by Dan Aykroyd. Before the competition begins, he tells everyone that the tournament will be videotaped, as part of a video record of all the culturally significant events of 1982, which will be included in the contents of a probe NASA will be sending into space. Anyway, at the tournament, Sam and Will befriend an otherwise friendless video game "Wonder Kid" named Ludlow Lamonsoff (a conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with "Lady Lisa," the heroine of a video game called "Dojo Quest"). In the tournament, Sam ultimately comes in second to an obnoxious gamer named Eddie Plant (who calls himself "The Fire Blaster"). Will consoles Sam over the loss by reminding him that he'll still go to MIT someday, and become a rich inventor.

In the present, Sam is played by Adam Sandler. We find that instead of becoming a successful inventor, he works at an electronics store, and does home installations for customers. When he goes to install a bunch of electronics for a kid named Matty, the two of them bond over discussion of old-school vs. modern video games. Matty's mother, Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), has bought him a bunch of stuff to compensate for the fact that she and Matty's father have divorced (after she found out he was cheating on her). Sam is immediately attracted to Violet, and the two of them end up commiserating over their own respective problems, but things turn sour between them when Sam mistakenly believes the moment they were having should lead to a kiss.

We also learn that Will (now played by Kevin James) is President of the United States. He and Sam are still best friends, but Will's public approval rating is low, and even his wife (played by Jane Krakowski) is upset with him, because the demands of his job leave him with little time for her. Later, Will summons Sam to the White House, where he again encounters Violet, who turns out to be a lieutenant colonel. Will shows Sam a video of an attack that had been made on a U.S. military base in Guam, where everything was destroyed by an unknown force, which left the rubble... pixelated. And the two of them recognize a pattern in the video that reminds them both of the old video game "Galaga." Of course, this puts Will in an awkward position, because he could become a laughingstock for suggesting the attack was related to a 1980s video game. Still, he wants Sam's help in the matter, as an adviser. But of course no one else in the White House takes Sam seriously.

Later, Sam is contacted by Ludlow (now played by Josh Gad), who is as weird and friendless as ever. But he shows Sam a videotape of a show he had been recording, which was interrupted by a transmission from aliens announcing their intentions, as well as telling humanity where the next attack would be: India. Sam and Ludlow inform Will, but he refuses to do anything, not wanting to further harm his own reputation. But he changes his mind after the aliens destroy the Taj Mahal. (Also, at both of those attacks, a human was abducted as a "trophy.") So, Will gets Sam and Ludlow to train a group of Navy SEALs to play old video games, and Violet provides them with specially designed "light cannons" to use against the aliens at their next attack, which is in London. Sam and Ludlow end up being better at fighting the aliens (which take the form of "Centipede") than the SEALs, and are hailed as heroes. Also, the aliens send a trophy of their own down to Earth, though this one is of no importance to the story.

The rules that the aliens have set for the invasion are that one side or the other must win three rounds, to determine whether the aliens leave, or destroy the planet. So far, the aliens are winning, two-to-one. To give humanity a greater chance in the next round, Will gets Eddie (now played by Peter Dinklage) out of prison, to help fight the aliens. The next attack, in New York City, takes the form of "Pac-Man." When they win, we get another trophy: Q*bert. He ends up being helpful to the human heroes, from this point on. Later, for reasons I don't want to get into, the aliens stage an all-out invasion, rather than an individual attack. Among the many video game forms that this takes is Lady Lisa. Unlike the other aliens we've seen, who are all CGI and look like 8-bit pixelated characters, Lisa takes on a fully human form (played by Ashley Benson). At first, she fights Ludlow, but... soon becomes an ally.

Okay. Well now I've said too much, and I'm not going to say any more about the plot. But it's all really goofy, in a way that I found very fun. I won't blame professional critics for disagreeing. But honestly, it's hard for me to understand why anyone wouldn't like the movie. All I can say is we must have very different senses of humor. (Even if it's quite likely people who dislike this movie and I would have the same opinions of any number of other movies.)


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