Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Pixels.”
The Movie: “Pixels”
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan
Director: Chris Columbus
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 16 percent
Brown: We’ve covered plenty of divisive actors here on the JOE-DOWN.
John Travolta is like a deity to us. Nic Cage got an entire month devoted to him. The JOE-DOWN began with Jean-Claude Van Damme. And from there, there’s sprinkles of Kristen Stewart, Steven Seagal and the entire cast of “Fuller House.”
But one that has escaped our gaze is Adam Sandler, who’s having a career renaissance with “Uncut Gems.”
But we kind of hate ourselves on the JOE-DOWN, so we’re going to watch the bad ones. For all of February.
Welcome to Adam Sandler Month!
So let’s kick things off with “Pixels,” which is a love letter to the ‘80s and video games. Should be a winner for us Joes, right?
While I scribble cheat codes onto the inside of my glasses, give me some of your first thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: You son of a bitch.
You made me watch a movie where Josh Gad (REDACTED) Q*bert and has little Q*bert offspring. That alone will haunt my dreams for decades.
You son of a bitch.
And you’re right, we have avoided Sandler and for an obvious reason: He has pretty much phoned in his career since 2000. Don’t get me wrong, “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy” all have a place in my jaded heart for their goofy, oftentimes insane humor. But after 2000, Sandler realized he just has to do a quick formula for box-office success: Goofy voice, untapped rage, goofy voice, untapped rage. Rinse. Repeat.
So when you picked “Pixels,” my first reaction was “Oh boy, a paint-by-numbers Sandler movie that probably has Kevin James in it,” and I was pretty close to that mark.
So I went along with this, had a few authentic chuckles and then BAM! Josh Gad (REDACTED) Q*bert, you perverted weirdo!
I gotta cool down, why don’t you kick off the weirdest adaptation of “King of Kong.”
Brown: So before things get underway, we get the Happy Madison Productions logo to pop up and we’re reminded of two other Sandler movies Froemming and I would have enjoyed more.
It’s 1982 and a new arcade has opened. Teens Sam Brenner and Will Cooper steal money from Will’s sister’s lemonade stand. She calls them hosers and I’ll explain why that’s real weird to me later.
Froemming: Wait, is the president of the United States in this movie Canadian?
Brown: I guess we won’t wait. Will Cooper ends up becoming president and yes, I think our president is Canadian. That is in direct violation of the Constitution that requires the president must be a natural-born U.S. citizen.
Froemming: I don’t think the Constitution means anything anymore. #Topical #HotButtonIssue
Brown: Anywho, it turns out that Sam is good at these games he’s never played before. Like, real good. He pretty much is Steve Wiebe from “The King of Kong” with how he’s able to recognize the patterns.
Sam is apparently so good in such a short amount of time that he enters the World Championships? Is this like “Over the Top” where the world championships have trucker divisions?
Froemming: Is it video game regionals?
Also, I think this is the same premise as “The Wizard.”
Brown: I just remembered that this is a Sandler movie, so logic should fly out the window. This’ll be a recurring theme throughout this review.
Also, “The Wizard” has been on the JOE-DOWN radar for years and we just need to review it.
Back to “Pixels,” Sam and Will also meet a young pervert in Ludlow “The Wonder Kid,” who is already into 4chan levels of conspiracy theories and later (REDACTED) beloved video game icon Q*bert.
Froemming: You say conspiracy, I say “deep state truthisms.” #Truthiness #QuestionableSupplements
We also meet Eddie Plant, who is the Billy Mitchell to Sam Brenner’s Steve Weibe. Eddie has it all: A mullet, two strippers that follow him around for some reason, aviators, a self-given nickname and a fist full of quarters to kick ass. This will be our antagonist, and frankly, later on Peter Dinklage is the best part of this whole movie, if only for his southern accent that is somehow more strange that Nic Cage’s in “Con-Air.”
So we see the children playing the games and it ends up with Sam V Eddie at “Donkey Kong,” and I was kinda irate that this movie took and crapped over one of my favorite documentaries. But, alas, that is the one-sided relationship we all have with Adam Sandler movies these days.
Brown: I mean, they also took the plot line of an episode of “Futurama” where Fry asks what would happen if life were like a video game.
Also, before the final game, we have a cameo by Dan Aykroyd, which is with the exception of “Canadian Bacon,” a surefire way to let you know your movie is gonna be bad.
Froemming: Did you notice his awful Crystal Head Vodka also makes a cameo in this movie?
Brown: Yes! I had that in my notes for later. Get out of my head, Froemming!
Anyways, Sam and Eddie face off in “Donkey Kong,” where Eddie comes out the winner in a notoriously hard arcade game. His stripper (??) friends are happy and are in the wrong decade. Like, you couldn’t have teased their hair up to make the women look less like my sister’s friends in high school circa 2002?
Young Sam is broken. So much so that while his dopey sidekick who’s only good at the claw machine and insists on his friends calling him Chewie becomes the (REDACTED) ineligible president, Sam grows up to be Adam Sandler in a dead-end job for a Geek Squad knockoff that dresses in all orange like prison inmates in cargo shorts.
Also, this needs to be everyone’s reaction when Kevin James enters an Adam Sandler movie.
So at this point, check “loveable loser” off your Sandler Bingo cards. And get ready to check off “wins over attractive woman” soon.
Froemming: Yeah, after Sam and our Canadian overlord president Kevin James have a little chat at a bar, we see our Hydrox-brand Geek Squad hero go to a well-to-do home in Suburbia, USA to install some TVs and other doodads (technical term) for a young boy and his wine-drunk mother.
The mother, Violet, is weeping alone in a closet and Sam just sort of barges and and starts chatting up a stranger in her own home during a private moment. The two of them then get day-drunk while talking about failed relationships and Sam tries to make out with her.
Sam is a walking red flag in this scenario. People, don’t be like Sam.
Brown: Meanwhile, out in Guam of all places, a U.S. military base is under attack from what I can only describe is a spirit in the sky.
Or, you know, aliens. And instead of going all “Independence Day” and blowing up the White House, everything is destroyed via pixelation.
So as Sam is surely blowing off other customers by A. getting day drunk with a divorcee and B. getting called to the White House by (REDACTED) President Kevin James because he’s someone that can solve the military’s problems?
Also, divorcee Violet is headed to the White House as well because she’s a Lieutenant Colonel for the U.S. Army. I mean, that’s WAY more believable than anything else that happens here.
Sam recognizes the patterns of the attacks as the same patterns used in an early version of “Galaga.”
Brian Cox is in this movie as an Admiral and a military advisor to the President. And I think I became him through the course of this movie with how many times I was uttering “Are you (REDACTED) kidding me, Sandler?”
Froemming: Because Sam is some IT nerd, not some military nerd, he is asked to leave. Also, President Kevin James would have sounded really weird and funny to me before 2016. These days, I buy it.
Sam gets in his goofy IT van and is attacked by Ludlow with a bottle of chloroform, which is exactly how I imagine Joe Brown will finally take me out.
Brown: I am many things, Froemming. But a budding Theodore Bundy like Ludlow CLEARLY is, that ain’t me.
Anywho, Ludlow explains who he is and asks Sam to go with him to his creepy basement, which Joe Brown has done to me before.
Brown: Ludlow is the living embodiment of Patton Oswalt’s bit about Uncle Touchy’s Naked Puzzle Basement.
Froemming: Here, we see Ludlow probably needs therapy and medication, because he seems to take clippings from Weekly World News to heart as they are plastered on his walls. We find he still uses VHS to tape his shows, because the internet makes spying on him easier, which I mean he is not wrong on that. But I think people overestimate the urge others have in peeping into the day-to-day events of 40-year-old virgins playing conspiracy nut in their basements…
Basically I just described InfoWars.
Anyway, Ludlow has a VHS tape of a message aliens sent to Earth, via MTV icons of the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. See, Dan Aykroyd sent a tape of the video game championship to space in 1982, and now aliens see it as an act of aggression. And they have a message to the world about that:
Brown: And also, because arcade video games, both Earth and the aliens get three lives. Earth is down to its final life after Guam and an attack in India where the Taj Mahal gets pixelated.
Backs against the wall, this is how Sam and Ludlow get to boss around the military by having them play old arcade games.
And… Ludlow berating them AND slapping their butts because LOL homophobia.
This, in a nutshell, describes the problem with “Pixels”: When something interesting/humorous happens, it’s immediately saddled by easy/cheap humor and Sandler movie tropes.
Thanks to the “Where’s the Beef” lady relaying the message, we know where the next attack is taking place: London.
The game: “Centipede.”
It goes poorly when the military, which is noted for its discipline and ability to follow orders, doesn’t do a damn thing Sam prepared them for.
So, Adam Sandler with a light gun gets to save the day instead of the military.
Froemming: I would like to add that Sean Bean, who plays the British military man here, does not get killed. Which is a relief.
Yeah, they win their first battle. We also learn the military doesn’t take headshots when shooting at an enemy, because that’s all Sandler does differently in this moment.
So at the bar, everyone is celebrating the victory…
Brown: The president chugs a beer because of (REDACTED) course he does.
Froemming: … When they get a new message from space: The next battle will be in New York. The game will be “Pacman.” And they give an old woman a trophy for this victory: The laughing dog from “Duck Hunt.” Which is never seen again nor mentioned again, so some trophy.
Well, they need the best to win at “Pacman,” so enter an incarcerated Eddie Plant. The president, Sam and Violet all are there to broker this deal, which I am 100 percent sure is not how things work. Eddie has some interesting demands, one being a three-way date with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart, which is oddly specific for a joke.
Brown: Look, I’ve come to grips that anything Sandler makes will get greenlit. I mean, “South Park” already made fun of this.
But poor Serena Williams. She later gets forced into a date with a mulleted Peter Dinklage that talks like Mel Gibson after a couple cocktails.
So now we have Sam, Ludlow and Eddie going to NYC to battle Pac-Man with Mini Coopers that act like ghosts from the game. Fun sidenote: I once dressed like Inky, the blue ghost for Halloween at the office.
Froemming: Did someone say “Pac-Man?”
Brown: The fourth ghost is driven by actual “Pac-Man” creator Toru Iwatani, who goes from wanting to talk sense into his creation to wanting “that bitch dead” after getting his hand pixelated.
Froemming: OK, so they win this battle, but we find out it is because Eddie used cheat codes when he played in the 1982 championship and here.
OK, how does one use a cheat code here in real life? Never explained.
Two, are there cheat codes for the arcade game classic “Pac-Man?” I don’t think I have heard of cheat codes for arcade consoles, just home ones. Am I wrong, Brown?
Brown: Just Googled it, no cheat codes. Sure, a glitch here or there, but nothing for super speed.
Off-topic: Does the cheat code A-B-A-C-A-B-B have any significance to you?
Froemming: Yes, the blood code for Sega Genesis’ “Mortal Kombat.” 007-373-5963 is also the code to fight Mike Tyson right away in “Punch-Out.” Holding select and hitting start at the title screen of “Super Mario Bros” will bring you back to the last level you played.
Brown: I’ve never been more proud of you.
Froemming: The aliens call shenanigans on the Earthling for cheating, much like a documentary film would call shenanigans on Billy Mitchell in the 2000s for cheating his way to a top score on “Donkey Kong,” and it is now an all out war!
Froemming: They find out about the cheat after winning Q*bert as a trophy and while at a party. The news is delivered by Hall and Oates (or Holland Oates) and Violet’s son finds out that Eddie was the cheater. Eddie, not surprisingly, makes like a tree and goes away.
Brown: During this cocktail party where, among other things, Eddie gets his forced date with Serena Williams (a black woman being forced to do anything for a white men is troubling), Ludlow is singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” And I only bring this up because I’ve done that song for karaoke before and it probably looked like that performance.
As far as Hall and Oates ringing in our demise as a planet… I’d be OK with that.
Froemming: I can’t go for that, no. No can do.
That did lead to my favorite line in the movie: Brian Cox yelling at Adam Sandler: “You heard Hall and Oates, you blew it!”
The aliens are blood thirsty so they go with a full-out assault on Washington D.C. with every pixelated arcade video game character I could think of. That was actually a lot of fun to watch. Again, when this movie doesn’t Sandler itself, it can be entertaining. It’s not the best love letter to the ‘80s I watched this weekend (that would go to “Kung Fury”) but stuff like that works.
And then the movie gets in its own way AGAIN as Kevin James gets involved as regular-guy president wearing his knock-off Space Force jumpsuit and Ludlow meets his video-game crush who breaks all the rules about arcade characters in this movie up to this point. T&A can’t be pixelated, folks.
To quote our pal Q*Bert: “@!#?@!”
Froemming: What about Sonya Blade? She was pixelated-looking?
Brown: I’ll count poor capture footage as pixelated.
Froemming: This conversation is making me uncomfortable.
Anyway, Ludlow somehow convinces this lady to join their side (?) and Sam and Violet and the gang are summoned upon a ship, which turns into a giant “Donkey Kong” game, which I did enjoy. But Sam thinks he sucks at “Donkey Kong” because Eddie beat him. Dude made it to level 23 or something, I think he is OK at the game. Considering it is one of the most difficult games out there.
Brown: Right? I don’t know if I’ve gotten past the third level on “Donkey Kong.” That (REDACTED) is impossible.
Who was your favorite arcade character to see during the final fight? My pick: Chef Peter Pepper from “Burger Time.”
Froemming: It was Q*bert, until Josh Gad (REDACTED) the poor son of a bitch. But seeing Donkey Kong as the big bad was a lot of fun.
Brown: With the Josh Gad connection, there HAS to be a Q*bert/Olaf from “Frozen” fan fic out there. I mean, I haven’t started one after seeing this movie …
Froemming: You heard it folks, email your fan fiction to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Brown: Well, my email is gonna get flagged by corporate.
Wanting to go on the ship to end the alien threat, Sam, Violet and the (REDACTED) president are invited on by living nightmare Max Headroom of MTV fame.
Froemming: Max Headroom is proof there was too much cocaine consumed in the 1980s.
Sam’s strategy is to not look for patterns in “Donkey Kong,” which flies in the face of everything we ever knew about the game and the premise to “King of Kong.” But, alas, here we are.
Brown: Donkey Kong is so scary that Q*bert has pixelated urine come out of him.
*Long Sigh* (REDACTED) you, Sandler.
Froemming: This is when the movie took an ugly turn for me. I had not finished it yet, and was chatting with Brown with how this movie isn’t the worst Sandler film I had seen. How it was just harmless video game nostalgia crap. I hung up the phone, resumed the movie and saw the dark horror this movie would take with one of my favorite game characters growing up. First the poor son of a bitch urinates all over himself. Then Josh Gad (REDACTED) the poor bastard and they end up with little Q*bert offspring.
Brown: I mean, knowing there’s little Q*berts out there makes me happy. But not like this!
Not like this.
Also, for a battle that began due to Eddie’s cheating and the group saying they have to play within the game’s rules to save the planet, Sam and company play real fast and loose with “Donkey Kong.”
Having a third dimension means they can climb the bottom of the construction beams, which you cannot do in the game. Then at the climax, when Sam defeats Donkey Kong, he does so by THROWING the hammer at the big ape. Jumpman sure as (REDACTED) couldn’t do that in the arcade!
Froemming: I appreciate you calling him “Jumpman” but that is (REDACTED) Mario!
Brown: Earth cheats again. The aliens may as well get the most frightening arcade villain ever to destroy the planet: Sinistar!
Froemming: The day is saved. Sam and Violet become a couple. Eddie gets his oddly specific date with Williams and Stewart.
Brown: It’s not a date. Eddie explicitly states that he wants a threesome with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart in the Lincoln Bedroom! And that’s STILL not the most troubling sexual story in this (REDACTED) movie.
Froemming: JOSH GAD (REDACTED) Q*BERT AND HAS LITTLE Q*BERT CHILDREN! The worst part is poor Q*bert has to change its form to Lady Lisa for Josh (REDACTED) Gad. I am all sorts of troubled by this.
Look, I don’t want to talk about this movie anymore. Let’s go to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: No. This movie is quintessential one step forward, two steps back. And look how it traumatized poor Froemming.
Froemming: I would have until Josh Gad (REDACTED) Q*bert. Now it is a solid “no” from me.