Liking The Emoji Movie last year had a profound impact on my identity as a cinephile. When everyone else reserved nothing but their choicest vitriol for the movie, it made me question whether I truly lacked the critical faculties to differentiate between something with a legitimate heart and creative spark, and a moronic, cynical attempt to make some money by stealing somebody else’s ideas. I’d probably have to see the movie a second time to determine which one it is, but I dare not. At some point I will.
It’s dampened some of my enthusiasm for going back and seeing other movies widely heralded as turds from recent years. If I liked these movies too, I’d start to wonder if I were capable of rendering sound judgments about movies in general.
But Sunday night I faced that fear and watched one with some obvious surface similarities to The Emoji Movie: the Adam Sandler-starring, Chris Columbus-directed 2015 flop Pixels.
And I’m glad to say that I hated it.
“Hate” might be a strong word as the movie did not make me angry. But I did not laugh once, and I grimaced numerous times. “Srongly disliked” might be a better word as I decided that the movie warranted 1.5 stars rather than 1 or .5. You don’t truly “hate” a movie unless you give it one star or lower. But 1.5 stars is no kind of endorsement of Pixels, when you contrast it with the four stars (!) I handed out to Emoji Movie.
And boy did not liking Pixels feel good.
You shouldn’t go into a movie thinking you won’t like it or wanting not to like it, as that’s not giving the movie a fair shake. It’s also conforming to your preconceived bias, which is part of the very hivethink I loathe that led so many people not to like The Emoji Movie. And in fact I do feel like I went in with an open mind about possibly finding a surprisingly charming film that was widely misunderstood, like The Emoji Movie. Despite my acknowledged trepidations.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that Pixels was DOA, flat in concept and execution, and unfunny. I was with it through the opening flashback sequence in which a young version of Sandler’s character is seen mastering numerous 1982 arcade games while Cheap Trick plays on the soundtrack. Promising enough. But the moment we thudded into the present day, with Sandler looking even older and more haggard than I think he was supposed to, the movie lost whatever potential liveliness it had. Learning that Kevin James was playing THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, a dim-witted childhood buddy of Sandler’s who can’t really read, pretty much squelched any hope. Even the arrival of one of our most charming actresses, Michelle Monaghan, and a true cinematic/TV treasure, Peter Dinklage, could not salvage the movie.
A paragraph’s worth of qualitative analysis of Pixels is all I care to give it at the moment, because that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t like all bad things. And that’s a good thing.
I did think it was funny to compare Pixels with a more recent cultural touchstone, Ready Player One. The similarities are rather striking – striking enough that I considered titling this post “Ready Pixels One.” Both movies deal with how an intimate/obsessive knowledge of 1980s culture proves key to saving the world. Knowing the right moves on a video game is actually key to both movies, though RPO expands that to include memorization of movies and other pop culture relics. Both heroes are men who devoted themselves to learning those things, though in the case of Pixels, it’s because he loved them, whereas it’s more a means to end in RPO (with love following as a byproduct). And both movies are ridiculous, with RPO perhaps only seeming more valuable because of its superior execution.
Now that I know I can see bad movies for what they are, maybe I’ll go on a little binge.
Or, maybe I’ll cleanse my pallet from Pixels with something good.