From a career point of view, Pixels may be the most important movie of Adam Sandler’s career. The big-budget action comedy sees the comedian help save the world from aliens who attack using classic video arcade games like PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong and Centipede as models for their assaults.
In real life, it’s not Donkey Kong Sandler needs to battle, but audience apathy. A string of box office flops, controversies and terrible reviews — critic Liam Maguren was so horrified by Sandler’s 2011 “comedy” Jack and Jill he wrote, “Burn this. This cannot be seen. By anyone” — have threatened to torpedo his career.
Even his own studio seemed to have turned against him. In last year’s Sony email hack, one employee complained, “we continue to be saddled with the mundane, formulaic Adam Sandler films.”
Movies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmour and Big Daddy were hits that established his persona as the angry but sweet everyman, a misfit character he trotted out for two decades. Occasionally he’d get serious in pictures like Punch-Drunk Love or Reign Over Me and soak up some good reviews, but by and large, the Sandleronian oeuvre has been ripe with anger management issues and jokes of … how to put this delicately: a gastrointestinal nature.
Not highbrow, but that’s OK — not everything has to be Noel Coward — as long as audiences care.
But at some point, it seemed they stopped caring.
Perhaps it was the inconsistent nature of his movies. Just when you think he’s turned a corner with the excellent Reign Over Me into interesting adult roles he slaps you in the face with the zero-star rated follow-up I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Or maybe it’s quality control issues. Last year Kevin Nealon told me about being offered a role in the Sandler-produced Grandma’s Boy.
“It was so lowball and crass,” said Nealon. “I thought it might be a little embarrassing to be in that one. So I told Sandler I’d probably pass on it and he called me and said, ‘I really hope you do this because if you don’t do it and it’s a big hit I’ll feel bad, but if you do it and it’s not a big hit, no one is going to see it anyway.’”
That attitude may be realistic but it doesn’t exactly speak to high standards. More than that, however, is the static nature of Sandler’s comedy. His everyman character hasn’t changed much throughout the years. Usually these days he lives in nicer houses or has more money but it’s the same old shtick.
The old saying, “He got bigger, but didn’t grow up,” perfectly applies to Sandler.
He may have matured (chronologically at least) but the urination gags and rageaholic jokes that characterize his comedy haven’t.
We don’t need to feel sorry for Adam Sandler. He has movies in the pipeline and a new deal with Netflix, but Pixels is still an important moment for him. Rolling Stone called his last film, The Cobbler, “beyond awful and beyond repair,” and it went on to become his biggest flop to date.
If Pixels is a hit, and it may be, the trailer generated 34.3 million views worldwide in its first 24 hours online, he will be redeemed — at least until his next movie’s new round of toilet humour and cleavage shots.