Imagine if we sent a radio signal into space and an advanced alien world saw it. Imagine if they mistook the images we sent them as a declaration of war or hostility and they decided to come wipe us out before we did something to them. Sounds like good but somewhat-clichéd science fiction, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more...
Imagine if the images we sent were actually from our videogames in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. That’s a little more interesting, isn’t it? And what if the aliens use those videogames as a guideline for the rules of war, and what if the aliens have chosen to send electronically-made warriors who resemble the “warriors” in the games we sent and generally follow the same rules from the game. That sounds like it could make for a heck of an interesting and original comedy, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more...
Anyways, the plot is this: aliens are coming to kill us because we sent them images of our videogames, which they mistook as a declaration of war. They have created a set of rules using those videogames. Paul Blart Mall Cop is the President and he brings his friends, Adam Sandler, some fat guy, Peter Dinklage and some hot chick to fight the aliens. They win.
Before I talk about this film in any detail, let me say that the film wasn’t as bad as the critics said. It was good-natured. It had some decent laughs now and then too. Basically, it was an entertaining enough waste of time. My kids actually liked it a lot.
As a general rule, I’ve found space-based comedies to be on the dull side. More often than not, these films have a lot of promise at the outset, having picked creative setups in a rarely-touched field, but then they just seem to fall apart. It strikes me that where they typically fail is in a lack of sufficient affinity for science fiction that they can derive their humor from the science fiction premise.
An even better example comes from Mars Attacks. This film is nothing but one running sight-gag. Basically, you’re supposed to laugh at the way the aliens look and the images of what they do – like a head swap between two characters. But there’s little humor in that film that derives from the actual premise of an alien invasion. Essentially, this film is a comedy about infidelity, a crazy president, and just some nonsense characters acting strangely. The aliens are a McGuffin to give these characters some justification for acting strangely. In fact, you could have replaced the aliens with Russians or zombies or even just a rumor of an invasion and almost nothing would have needed to change in the story.
Pixels is an Adam Sandler film. It’s about Adam Sandler and his friends walking though a film ogling women and showing everybody up. You have “loveable loser” Sandler who has a unique talent – playing video games. You have the President of the United States, who is a personal friend of Sandler’s and is so incompetent that there’s no way he could ever be elected. This is Kevin James reprising his role as Paul Blart Mall Cop. You’ve got the fat guy who pines for any woman with big breasts. You’ve got the super hot chick who once dated Sandler and will want him back again once he becomes a hero. Only the Peter Dinklage character feels fresh and interesting, and he gets tossed aside except for two jokes.
Now, at times, the film does make good jokes about the aliens, and those are pretty funny. But again, they are basically sight gags – a cute electronic dog, seeing PacMan on a New York City street, a pretty funny joke involving Cubert, and seeing Cubert wet himself. In terms of the premise itself, however, there’s almost nothing about it that becomes part of the humor. The one exception that comes to mind is when Dinklage somehow manages to use cheat codes in real life. Beyond that though, you could have swapped out the aliens for alligators and nothing would have changed.
As a result of this, Pixels feels like an average Adam Sandler film, but a nothing compared to its potential or Wreck-It Ralph. Unfortunately, this seems to be typical for science fiction-based humor.