Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James and Josh Gad
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: August 14th
There doesn’t really seem to be much point in banging on about Adam Sandler at this point anymore. We all remember his hey-day, but we all know that it was back in the late 90s. The likes of Punch-Drunk Love or, at a push, Funny People are more likely to be CV anomalies than anything else, so let’s put the Sandler-flogging to rest, because this particular horse has been dead for quite a while. Instead, let’s take a look at Chris Columbus, the guy who once directed Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, the guy who once wrote the screenplays for The Goonies and Gremlins? Whatever happened to that guy?
After directing one of the worst Robin Williams movies (Bicenntenial Man), one of the worst Arnie movies (Jingle All the Way), the worst two Harry Potter movies (the first two), that terrible adaptation of Rent, that terrible Percy Jackson sequel, and the so-bad-we-actually-forgot-it-existed rom-com I Love You Beth Cooper, Columbus has now wound up being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Shawn Levy and Dennis Dugan. In short, Columbus is now relegated to directing Adam Sandler movies.
The sad thing is we know both these men are capable, but their recent efforts seem to lack exactly that: effort. With the god-awful Grown Ups 2 making $250 million or those two dull Potter movies clocking close to a billion a piece, who cares if the movies are good or not, right? There doesn’t need to be accounting for taste when your accountant’s eyeballs turns into dollar signs every time they see your box office.
The even sadder thing is that one of these guys actually brought their A-game this time. As the alien-invaders attack Earth based on ‘80s classic arcade coin-ops, former nerd Sandler and all his former nerd friends (a screechingly unfunny Josh God, a what-are-you-doing-here? Peter Dinklage, a “He’s playing the President of the USA? For reals?” Kevin James) are the only ones who can save the day. But within Pixels itself, it’s only Columbus who saves the movie from being a total waste of time. Sandler and co. remain defiantly unfunny throughout, with only a few saving grace one-liners from an overly serious army commander (Sean Bean) and the contractually obliged, out-of-Sandler’s-league love interest (Michelle Monaghan).
Around the comedy void however, Columbus directs some eye-popping visuals and competent action scenes with aplomb, and even injects some of the darker moments that you just don’t get anymore. Soldiers get killed screaming in agony, young children get snatched from the parents, limbs are bitten off in one bite; they’re the kind of child-therapy-session-in-waiting moments we used to get all the time with “family movies” back in the day. Here though, rubbing up against Sandler’s slack-jawed brand of drooling comedy, it just doesn’t work as well as it should.
Close your eyes and imagine Seth Rogen in that lead role, or imagine that cert pushed up from PG to 15a, or imagine that plot did a bit more than just blatantly rip-off that awesome Futurama episode (seriously, Matt Groening, talk to your lawyers!), and you can see there was seriously some potential here. Seeing what Columbus pulled off, and it’s clear that there’s still some potential with him. But as long as his movies keep making money – and don’t be fooled by the negative reviews, Pixels will definitely make its money – Sandler will still be around to ruin any potential there might be.