Galaga. Space Invaders. Centipede.
Way back in 1982, they were all the rage. Armed with a pocketful of tokens, hit the arcade and you were saving the world. That’s exactly what Sam Brenner and his best bud Cooper did on any given summer’s day.
Brenner was so good that he earned a spot in the first national video game championships and made it all the way to the final round … where he lost to a kid named Eddie (known as “The Fire Blaster”) on the dreaded Donkey Kong. He found out later that tapes of the competition were included in a time capsule that NASA launched into outer space.
It’s present day and Brenner isn’t feeling that special anymore. Because every time he’s faced a challenge in life, it feels like Donkey Kong all over again. And he can’t even pretend to get the current video game crazes. Who wants to run around blasting out digital brains in loud, nasty combat action?
And then Brenner’s fortunes suddenly change… when the aliens attack.
Giant versions of all old video game characters sent from the space aliens are attacking in various spots and blasting everything into 8-bit chunks. They’ve already taken out a military base in Guam, obliterated the Taj Mahal and are promising more mayhem.
Earth needs capable defenders! And that means one thing: Brenner and other tired, paunchy “arcaders” like him must get back in the game … and finally defeat Donkey Kong once and for all.
For all of his snarky comments, Brenner is a pretty nice guy who’s ultimately willing to put himself in harm’s way to help humanity survive. And his quirky fellow arcaders fall into that category as well.
Eddie asks for a three-way hookup with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart as payment for helping fight the aliens. We hear repeated sensual quips. Violet and Brenner talk about the sexual unfaithfulness of their former spouses. A number of women—including Violet and Serena Williams—wear revealing attire, ranging from midriff-baring crop tops in the ’80s to the cleavage- and thigh-revealing getups of today.
When the alien video game character Q*bert watches someone playing a modern shooter game, the run-and-gun action makes him quake in fear. That’s definitely a commentary on how the visceral violence quotient of games has changed over the years. And it’s a pretty good indicator of the limited level of mess in this film, too.
Of course there’s an abundant amount of action between the video game invaders and human combatants, but no blood or death is in evidence.
CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE
One f-word (delivered in a thick Australian accent) and two s-words. We also hear four or five uses each of “d–n” and “b–ch,” and a dozen uses each of “a–” and “h—.” An Australian soldier tells someone to “b-gger off,” calls people “nipple twisters” and spits out “bloody” several times.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
When Brenner and Violet first meet, she’s drinking Chardonnay. He joins her and they both get tipsy. Later they drink shots of vodka while at a pub packed with celebrating beer drinkers. Violet swigs a beer in another scene. A group of civilians is told that a conflict between soldiers and aliens is really just a beer commercial being shot. Brenner talks about “dorm room drug parties” in college.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
A young Cooper steals a jar of quarters from a young girl. Brenner hurls personal insults at government officials, calling, for instance, a woman “Gandalf” because of her white hair. Ludlow admits to hacking into government servers. When particularly frightened, Q*bert lets loose with, shall we say, a stream of pixels. It’s revealed that Eddie uses cheat codes when gaming.
In the midst of a constant barrage of Hollywood remakes, copycats and sequels, this Adam Sandler comedy starts out with a rather cute proposition. What if supersized Galaga ships, rampaging Centipedes and an ever-hungry Pac-Man attacked Earth? As an old arcader myself, that sounds like a lot of fun all mixed up in loads of colorful, old-school CGI action.
And to a certain point, Pixels delivers on that potential as it packs in a light lesson about not letting old failures and losses dictate your future choices. But I’m afraid most of the truly creative parts of this cute idea could fit in the space of a trailer… which you can enjoy for free online. The full 100-minute version adds some foul language, adult situations and innuendo by way of the typical Sandler shtick.
Got quarters burning a hole in your pocket? I know this retro arcade across town that might end up providing a lot more family fun than Pixels.
This review was adapted from Plugged In: the entertainment guide your family needs to make family appropriate decisions through movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and more.