PIXELS,  US, 2015. Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gadd, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Fiona Shaw, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd, Lainie Kazan, Tom McCarthy, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart. Directed by Chris Columbus. 106 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, violence, coarse language, sexual references).

This is definitely a film to exercise the imagination.

And one of the exercises for a wild imagination is the application of the premise that every American could become president - it is seen that the President in this film is played by Kevin James! How he ever got there is a minor miracle of the imagination – but, once he is there, we take it for granted, especially since he has to save the world. And even more exercising the imagination, the saviour of the world is Adam Sandler.

This is a film for those who love computer games, who think and imagine computer games, who play and are fiercely competitive – and the film reminds us that this has been the case for a long time, opening with competitions in 1982, when arcades were the place where the groupies played and there were no such things as personal Play Stations. In 1982, there are three young friends, Brenner, Cooper and Ludlow and their arch-rival, Eddie, who nicknames himself The Fireblaster and who wins the competition, especially Donkey Kong.

Over 30 years later. Brenner (Adam Sandler as per usual) has a company called NE RD, for installation of televisions and other technical work. Ludlow (Josh Gadd in a now familiar kind of role) is a conspiracy theorist, living in a kind of nerd isolation. And Cooper is the President of the United States.

This is where we really have to work hard with our imagination. Earth is being invaded by aliens. They have collected the time capsule sent into space in 1982 with all kinds of computer game data and the aliens have decided that this is a challenge to their authority and they intend to play, win and take over and/or destroy Earth.

Brenner has had a bad encounter with a mother (Michelle Monaghan) whose husband has left her, but then discovers that she is high-powered military at the Pentagon and amazed that Brenner should be arriving at the White House at the same time as she – and one ups him as she goes towards the War Room, while he then one ups her, smugly invited to speak with the President.

Now, we see where this is all going. The military chief, Brian Cox, is not particularly impressed, especially when Brenner and Ludlow have to train Navy seals to play computer games, discover patterns, fire their weapons to destroy the aliens. In a move that will please British audiences, the first confrontation is to occur in London, in Hyde Park, with the President conferring with British authorities, especially the Prime Minister, Fiona Shaw, who is doing an extreme parody of Margaret Thatcher. The British forces are led by a very aggressive Sean Bean.

Needless to say…

The next encounter is to happen in New York City, a Pacman confrontation – which means they have to track down Eddie, who is in jail for fraud, still extraordinary self-assertive but the Pacman champion. He is played with aggressive vigour, taking time off from Game of Thrones, by Peter Dinklage. There is even a scene with the Japanese inventor of Pacman.

Needless to say…

Many in the audience may have thought that this was the grand climax and finale of the film – big mistake. The last game is donkey Kong, a chance for Brenner to beat Eddie who had defeated him 30 years earlier. And, by this time, there is a thing going between the military lady and Brenner, cheered on by her young son. Eddie has been promised a reward, a choice between a date with at the White House ball with either Serena Williams or Martha Stewart. We all know the Serena Williams is definitely a good sport and she enjoys herself with this cameo appearance, with a supplementary moment by Martha Stewart.

Those not in the know about pixels and computer games and play stations will find that the screenplay (written by Tim Herlihy who had written ten of Adam Sandler’s films) conveys enough information so that they do not feel quite out of it.

Nonsense (we hope) but enjoyable nonsense nonetheless.

Sony.  Released September 10th

Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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