** 1/2 out of ****
This is not saying much, but as Adam Sandler movies go, Pixels is one of the better ones. It's still a forgettable comedy, but it's inoffensive and goes down easy. Part of the reason Pixels is tolerable is that it's not directed by one of Sandler's go-to guys and hack extraordinaires like Dennis Dugan or Frank Coraci. This time there is an actual filmmaker at the helm, Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter movies, Home Alone 1 & 2, and Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as being the screenwriter of Gremlins and The Goonies.
The plot has aliens invading planet Earth using 1980s pop culture, especially video games of the era, as a means of attack. See, the invaders somehow misinterpreted Pac-Man and such as an act of war, so they are challenging us to real-life video games. If we win, Earth doesn't get annihilated. Enter Brenner (Sandler), a schlubby man-child who was an ace video game player at the arcade in his youth. His best friend, Cooper (Kevin James), is now President of the United States and elects Brenner to lead the fight against the aliens.
Sandler is bland here, Josh Gad – as Brenner's gamer pal – is obnoxious, and Michelle Monaghan – as Brenner's improbable love interest – looks alarmingly skinny, but the best and funniest performance is by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, The Station Agent) as a rival video game champ.
The 3-D pixel-ed character effects are nifty and colorful, and there is the occasional big laugh in the dialog (“Didn't you hear what Hall & Oates said? You blew it!”), and it's innocuous enough for the kids, who will probably enjoy it.