Pixels ★½

When I first heard of this project, I was mildly intrigued. After all, the concept sounded interesting and had the potential to become an entertaining movie. But, alas, that was not to be. "Pixels" is a juvenile action/sci-fi comedy that has few amusing moments and wears out its welcome a good while before the end credits start to roll.

Based on Patrick Jean’s short film of the same name and directed by Chris Columbus, "Pixels" shows what happens when aliens misinterpret footage of classic arcade games sent into space as a declaration of war. They attack Earth using the characters and rules from the video games in question, which include "Galaga", "Centipede", "Pac-Man", and "Donkey Kong". Ex-arcaders Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) are the planet’s only hope, with the support of President William Cooper (Kevin James) and Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan).

It’s not that "Pixels" is boring, exactly; it’s just that it feels drawn out. Considering that the short film on which the movie is based clocks in at a mere two and a half minutes, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that "Pixels" contains a not insignificant amount of filler material, what with its 106-minute running time.

Many of the attempts at humor fall flat, mainly due to the immaturity of the jokes. Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling’s screenplay would likely have benefited from a bit more seriousness and a little less comedy. Sure, the premise is crazy enough, but it isn’t completely absurd in relative terms.

One of the video-game characters, Lady Lisa, is played by an actual actress (Ashley Benson). Why the special treatment? Besides making one aspect of the ending palatable to the viewer, my informed guess is that the filmmakers want to emphasize how attractive Lady Lisa is. It certainly leaves a bad aftertaste.

Then there’s also the problematic outcome of it all. In the end, the alien attacks have hardly any real, physical consequences. I won’t spoil what happens, of course, but let me just say that the film has a very convenient way to deal with the aftermath of all the destruction that the aliens have caused.

One of the few highlights of the movie is the visual effects. Characters from various video games are quite convincingly brought to life in a real-world context, transforming everything and everyone that they come into contact with into actual pixels. The sense of nostalgia is strong, and seeing Pac-Man wreak havoc in New York City does have a nerdy appeal that I appreciated. Fans of 3D would do well to see Pixels in that format, as the third dimension is a natural fit for the film.

Sandler gives a tolerable performance that never becomes overly annoying. Dinklage’s intentional overacting somehow seems appropriate for his character, although the actor is far from his best here. And who would have thought that James portraying the President of the United States in a film would ever make sense?

"Game on"? No, I think not. With Q*bert being the most memorable character in the movie, it’s more like, "Game over".