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Game Over

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Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) in Columbia Pictures' PIXELS.

“Pixels” had promise.

The combination of director Chris Columbus — whose credits include the high-energy comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the action-heavy “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” — with classic 1980s video games seemed like a match made in arcade heaven.

But sloppy writing, bad performances and uneven pacing means it’s “game over” for the film before it gets started. You probably will get a cramp in your arm trying to hit the reset button to get this movie back on track.

The film starts in 1982 when those with pockets full of quarters would flock to local arcades to play games like “Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong,” “Space Invaders” and “Centipede.” These games were so popular, they spawned competitions.

Rated: PG-13
* *
Opens Friday

One such battle on a game of “Donkey Kong” pits the socially awkward Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) against the super confident Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage). Their battle is filmed and sent into space as part of a satellite carrying information about pop culture of the time.

Thirty-three years later, an alien race — misunderstanding the satellite message — invades Earth. Only the grown-up Sam (Adam Sandler) and his buddies can figure out how to defeat the real space invaders.

Columbus does a great job staging the larger-than-life battles, especially a confrontation with a 20-foot-tall Pac-Man who is eating up New York streets. All of the game play is entertaining and, for moviegoers of a certain age, extremely nostalgic.

It’s other factors that keep taking the life out of the movie.

It starts with bad acting. As surprising as it may sound, Sandler is far from the worst member of this thespian group. That honor goes to the very talented Dinklage.

This effort by Dinklage shows none of the acting skills he displayed in “The Station Agent” or “Game of Thrones.” It’s equal parts painful and embarrassing watching him attempt to play a smart-aleck surfer-dude-talking egomaniac. He is just lucky that Josh Gad is around as a reminder that there are actors who can be worse.

There wouldn’t have been as much time to notice the bad acting had Columbus not built in huge rest stops. It seems bizarre to think that an alien race can threaten to end the world and there is time to throw a gala party. But the president is played by Kevin James, so anything can happen.

Between all the bad ad-libbing, over-acting and failed jokes, there is a massive video game war going on. Columbus banks on the final showdown — filled with countless video game characters — to save the day.

The whole idea of the movie is that the aliens have challenged Earth to a winner-take-all contest using video games featured in the 1982 satellite transmission. But the writers — Sandler, Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling — ignore the movie’s biggest rule, and start using characters from video games that came out years later, such as “Paperboy.”

There even is a giant “Max Headroom” to taunt the humans. He didn’t come around until 1984.

Many won’t notice the discrepancies. But the film’s core audience is going to be gamers and they know their history. They are the ones who the director and writers failed.

“Pixels” ends up having too many glitches to make it worth your quarters.

Review by Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee

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