Writers take many approaches to writing. Some are naturals, some are just remarkable mimics. Some work in infrequent bursts, furiously writing as quickly as the thoughts come and then impossible to improve upon. Others do it by chipping away, trying to find the meaning and shape inside a dense marble block of words.
My approach is to write and write until I have enough words on the page to justify moving on to editing. At this point I don’t have marble, more like a mountain of shit to work with. I edit and edit and edit, not necessarily making the mountain better, but hoping that by moving clumps around and reshaping others some sort of alchemy will occur and I’ll luck into just the right phrase.
I can rework my shit forever because, as long as I do I’m not finished; there is still a chance for improvement and I have an excuse for not releasing my words into the world. I feel about my writing the way a father does when he suspects his baby is very ugly. When I take my baby out in the stroller I hope everyone’s distracted by the silly onesie I dressed it up in and fails to notice its warts, beady eyes and general feebleness. My writing is the hideous child locked in the attic.
I started writing movie reviews because it forced me to let my baby out every week. I’ve never posted a review I thought was as pretty as it should have been, but they’re as pretty as I can make them before I must let them go. Emily Dickinson should have written foul-mouthed movie reviews instead of stuffing her poems in a drawer. No matter the approach they take, or even the quality of the end product, writers try to deliver the best they’ve got.
Pixels wasn’t written by writers. It was scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin by smug assholes. Everyone involved said, “Fuck it, that’s good enough.” Nobody spent a sleepless night wondering if they could improve it. I’m not saying all the time I spend makes my stuff great, but I think there’s something to be said for at least trying, which this movie doesn’t. It’s the movie equivalent of a guy pissing himself because it’s too much work to get off the sofa and go to the restroom.
Pixels is based on a two-and-a-half minute video in which old low-res arcade characters like Space Invaders and Pac Man attack Earth. It was fun for 150 seconds, and an Internet sensation. Adam Sandler’s shit factory, Happy Madison Productions, acquired the rights to the concept. Their plan was not to improve on it, just to fluff it out to feature length with Styrofoam, sawdust and jerks. Definitely not with love.
As in the short, the world is attacked by giant low-res versions of classic game characters like Centipede, Arkinoid and Donkey Kong. In the feature, the story requires a group of old gamers from the 80s to come out of retirement to save the world. They must beat the aliens at three life-size games to save the planet.
Sandler plays Sam, former video game whiz who now installs TVs. The script has him refer to himself as a nerd, but he’s not. Nerd culture is very specific about what nerds are. Being a nerd takes work because of the passion for detailed nerdy stuff. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a nerd. My nephew Jimmy with the fake fangs is a nerd. Pixels is too fucking lazy to make Sam one. He’s just the mumbling dude in sweatpants at Buffalo Wild Wings who undertips waitresses. He has exactly zero passions, zero dreams, and yet, as in any Sandler movie, he ends up with the very good looking and ambitious woman (Michele Monaghan). She is drawn, I guess, to his sexy apathy.
His 80s sidekick (Kevin James) is now the President of the United States. No, that’s not one of the movie’s jokes. It’s just lazy casting, a case of Sandler and his mates surrounding themselves with friends who won’t rock the boat by putting in effort. James is incompetent as president, but that’s not intentional. It’s because the hacks who puked up this furball of a script (Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling) are entirely uncurious about how the world works. In fact, the movie’s adults have the whiff of being created by someone who thinks teachers live at schools and baseball players sleep in beds shaped like giant gloves.
The movie bills itself as a comedy, but the jokes are infrequent and weak. They’re placeholder put downs and punchlines that a real writer would have gone back and improved. Mostly, Sandler insults other people, including the woman he’s attracted to. Josh Gad, as a conspiracy-theory-obsessed gamer, has a few stale jokes about JFK which made me wonder who the fuck this movie is for? It’s too stupid and stale for adults, but what kid cracks up at nods to Loverboy and Tears for Fear? What adult, for that matter? I mean 80s nostalgia is so played out already that if a movie does it, it better not bring the most obvious choices.
Gad also is also supposed to be very shy and timid, yet, at one point he gives a loud and harsh scolding to Navy SEALS and at another he lip syncs at a presidential ball. These were arbitrary and desperate stabs at adding funny to dreadful scenes.
Science fiction and fantasy stories have to define the boundaries of their worlds. You can’t have magic in a movie without making it clear what is and is not possible, or else anything can happen at any time. Pixels is too fucking sloppy to bother with boundaries. The humans must win using the rules of the video games, and when the aliens catch the humans cheating they announce they will destroy Earth in twelve hours. Why twelve hours? I don’t know, it never matters. And, nobody seems terribly upset about the imminent demise. Then again, this shitty script has the president throw a gala ball to celebrate before the battle is even over. What killed me, though was that the aliens soon tell the humans they can have one more chance. Why? Because the forfeit was just a cheap plot device to give the story a low point.
The humans must battle Donkey Kong. And they win by, well, not following the rules. It’s fucking shoddy, plotting by convenience. Also, the alien invaders are all pixelated and out for blood except for the only female game character, who materializes as flesh and blood. Why? Because whoever made this movie likes boobs more than consistency. A better script would give us both, much more of both. This flesh woman is tamed by love, even though the movie makes clear in an earlier scene that the invaders are not moved by that emotion.
Sure, Pixels is a lousy movie, but even worse than that, it’s a wasted opportunity. The chance to make a movie is a rare gift, and I can only imagine how big an asshole you’d have to be to take it for granted. An Adam Sandler-sized one. Take it from a guy with two broken arms: if you’re going to fail, fail big. One Finger.