Pixels is based on a ridiculous premise but is executed surprisingly well.
Here’s the setup: One of those capsules filled with samples of our culture was sent into space in 1982. The capsule was recovered by aliens. They mistook the recording of kids playing video games to be an act of aggression. They respond by attacking earth by replicating classic games of the 80s. (I’ve been told that the TV show Futurama had an episode which presented a similar scenario.)
Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) was a talented gamer in the 80’s but now installs electronics systems. His childhood friend Cooper (Kevin James), who is now President of the United States, calls him to plan a response. No, you don’t need to reread the previous sentence: Kevin James plays the president.
Sandler and James’ characters are not as idiotic and obnoxious as the ones they usually portray. Not to say this is highbrow comedy.
Another childhood chum, Ludlow (Josh Gad), still as nerdy now as he ever was, jumps into the battle to help take down the aliens and their various game forms.
The aliens communicate with earth via a clever series of videos featuring 80s celebrities. Not unlike the hilarious Bad Lipreading videos that have become internet hits, the segments with 80s celebs (including Ronald Reagan, Mr. Rourke and Tattoo from Fantasy Island and Daryl Hall and John Oates, among others) tell our heroes where the next attacks will occur.
For the battle royale climax, another 80s gamer who helps the cause is Eddie (Peter Dinklage), now a prisoner, who trades his gaming skills for a presidential pardon and celebrity sexual favors.
One of Sam’s customers, Violet (Michelle Monaghan), turns out to be a military advisor who is deeply involved with the alien crisis. She’s also there to provide a romantic interest for Sam.
Pixels is perfect for the current generation of gamers, as well as for Gen-Xers who played Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga and other arcade favorites back in the day.
Pixels is silly, light amusement that provides some laughs and has many cool effects. I think it would be fun to pay for your admission with a pocket full of quarters—not unlike the coins you might carry to the arcade—but I’m not sure the kid in the ticket booth would appreciate the joke.