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PIXELS (2015) ****

What if you could save the world by doing something you used to be good at 30 years ago? It’s a powerful idea; one that I can relate to. I pretty much peaked in 1982, just like the characters in the movie, so I felt an immediate connection with them and their journey.

I’ve seen the internet has pretty much piled on the Let’s Bash Pixels bandwagon. Why is this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Adam Sandler is in it. I know the man is a shadow of his former self, but I think a lot of people have forgotten he used to make good movies. In that respect, Pixels is a return to form. It’s definitely his best film since Punch-Drunk Love.

I think the big reason why people have been spewing vitriol on the film is that they just are not of the same generation as its intended audience. I on the other hand am the ideal audience member. As someone who spent most of their formative years in arcades feeding quarters into a Pac-Man machine, I have to say that Pixels struck a chord with me.

Adam Sandler stars as an aimless guy who lost a big video game championship in 1982. Now he ekes out a living installing flat screen televisions and hanging out with his best friend Kevin James, who just so happens to be the President of the United States. Back in 1982, NASA sent a time capsule into space in hopes it would give aliens an idea about what life on Earth was like. Included in the capsule was a video of Sandler’s video game competition. The aliens mistake the video games for war plans and send real-life versions of the ‘80s games to destroy the world. James then has to call in Sandler and his competition (Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage) to stop the invasion.

Directed by Chris (Adventures in Babysitting) Columbus, Pixels is irresistible fun. It’s a mash-up of The Last Starfighter, Tron, Ghostbusters, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Columbus stages the video game battles in an exhilarating manner. The Centipede sequence is awesome. It plays out more or less like a callback to Aliens with Sandler advising a bunch of soldiers of the proper way to take out the Centipede. Of course, they don’t listen and get wiped out, and Sandler and Gad have to jump in and save their bacon. If you’ve ever played Centipede in the arcade, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear during this scene.

The Pac-Man chase is also very cool. Sandler, Gad, and Dinklage hop in cars that have been modified to act as ghosts. Meanwhile, a giant Pac-Man chases them throughout the streets of New York City. The sight of a giant Pac-Man eating cars, firetrucks, and even people is one I won’t soon forget. The scene ends on a perfect note too; one that left me cheering.

The film really soars during the Donkey Kong finale. The mock-up is just like the arcade game with Sandler and his pals jumping over barrels while trying to rescue Donkey Kong’s hostages. When Sandler grabs the hammer and starts smashing barrels to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”… well… I can’t lie… it was awesome.

The invasion sequence is amazing too. Just seeing characters from Paperboy, Frogger, Robotron, Joust, and Burger Time laying waste to a city was incredible. I also liked the character of Q-Bert, who turns against his race to help the humans. The scene where he pisses himself in terror was great.

It helps that the video game characters look almost exactly as they did in 1982. They could’ve gone and gave them a 21st century facelift, but Columbus wisely keeps the CGI low tech. If the graphics were too clean, it just wouldn’t have worked.

There’s an interesting subplot about the aliens appearing to us using forms they think we will be familiar with. Because the only data they have of Earth is ‘80s-based, they appear as Ronald Reagan, Madonna, Max Headroom, and Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize. I don’t know what all the other critics are smoking, but any movie that features Hall and Oates as harbingers of the apocalypse is OK by me. I mean how many times are you going to get to see Max Headroom on the big screen?

Sandler does a good job anchoring the potentially silly premise and grounding it in some sort of reality. He basically plays the straight man to Gad and Dinklage, who is excellent as the self-absorbed former video game champion. When he reveals who would be in his fantasy threeway, it’s one of the biggest laughs of the movie. James is also quite funny as the President. The scenes of Sandler just bumming around the White House are also good for a laugh and the whole My-Best-Friend-is-the-President premise probably could’ve sustained its own movie.

The 3-D is also solid. Breakout paddles, mushrooms, and exploding pixels come out of the screen. It’s not up to the height of something like My Bloody Valentine, but Columbus utilizes the technology better than 90% of his peers.

I guess a lot of people have reacted negatively towards Pixels because they don’t want their ‘80s nostalgia resold and repackaged to them. That however, is an important theme of the movie. The people in the film that die at the hands of the video game characters are all closed-minded individuals that can only function in today’s society. It is the people who are still perpetually stuck in the ‘80s that are able to rise to the occasion and save the day. Maybe in order for you to enjoy the film, you have to be one of those people.

You can count me among them. I wholeheartedly loved the film. It made me wistful for the days I wore Pac-Man shoelaces inside my Star Wars sneakers and poured quarter after quarter into a Galaga machine.

In one early scene, we see the younger version of Sandler riding his bike and going to the arcade while Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” blares on the soundtrack. It was like someone took a snapshot of my youth and projected it digitally in 3-D on a giant screen with Dolby Surround Sound. In case you’re wondering; yes, I got a little misty-eyed.

If loving Pixels is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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