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by DAN LYBARGER, Special to the Democrat-Gazette | July 24, 2015 at 1:59 a.m.
Video game ace Ludlow (Josh Gad) is chased by Pac-Man in Chris Columbus’ "Pixels."

Where is Wreck-It Ralph when he's most needed?

The title character of the 2012 movie was a destructive guy, but he knew how to make viewers of a certain age (OK, mine!) share their love for 8-bit video games with younger generations for whom Pac Man and Donkey Kong aren't even memories.


74 Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd

Director: Chris Columbus

Rating: PG-13, for some language and suggestive comments

Running time: 105 minutes

Pixels imagines a universe where the inhabitants of Earth must defend themselves from the aliens of '80s video games like Space Invaders and Galaga.

The idea of saving the real streets of New York, Mumbai, London or Washington from Frogger or some other vintage game creature sounds fun, but director Chris Columbus (who helmed the first two Harry Potter movies) can't think of anything interesting for these digital characters to do.

It doesn't help that Columbus' partner in crime is Adam Sandler, who brings in several of his old cronies like Kevin James and writer Tim Herlihy (The Wedding Singer). The former at least seems committed, but the script by the latter and Timothy Dowling is as predictable as the patterns better players used to conquer early versions of Pac Man.

In a move that's about as dumb as getting closeup pictures of Pluto is cool, NASA sends footage of a 1980s gaming competition in a space probe where extraterrestrials mistake innocent joystick action for a declaration of war.

When the real aliens start using attackers based on Centipede and Galaga, President "Chewie" Cooper (James) recruits his old pal Sam Brenner (Sandler) and the socially clumsy Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and the self-absorbed gaming king Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) to face the pixelated horde.

All three men are underachievers: Sam is a once-promising student who now installs TVs and gaming systems, while Eddie's nongaming activities have landed him in prison. Ludlow is obsessed with dubious conspiracies to the point where he can't relate to another human being. His single-mindedness quickly becomes a plus when he's the first person to understand why Pac Man is eating up New York.

With the help of Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) who has access to energy guns that work a lot like the ones in the classic games, the three are probably the only ones with joystick skills sufficient enough to send the Space Invaders back where they belong.

Because the dangers are computerized to begin with, there's never any sense of danger in Pixels. Visually, the showdowns might be in 3-D, but there's never a sense of wonder to go with the familiar shapes destroying major world landmarks.

Yes, the film is a comedy, but it's not that funny, either.

The romantic interplay between Sandler and Monaghan has a first draft feel and no heart. Don't get me started on the laugh-free cameos from Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. There's no point in recruiting big names for walk-ons if all they're going to do is stroll indifferently.

If you really want to get your game on, rent or (legally) download Wreck-It Ralph to see the work of people who can tell vivid stories and who love classic games.

Pixels is actually based on an intriguing 2 1/2-minute short by Patrick Jean. It does the astonishing trick of being nostalgic and creepy. Digital destruction is scary when it reduces solid things to data.

The new version of the film settles for simple namedropping. That's not as fun as playing the game itself.

MovieStyle on 07/24/2015

Print Headline: Pixels


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