How old are Adam Sandler's fans? A safe bet would be roughly his age, which at the moment is 48. The biggest clue came with the success of "The Wedding Singer," a 1998 rom-com set during Sandler's formative years in the 1980s. "The Wedding Singer" became a $123 million hit, and Sandler has since made a habit of inserting nostalgic references into many of his movies, from "Grown Ups" to "That's My Boy."
Sandler's latest vehicle, "Pixels," is yet another ginormous '80s joke. It's about aliens who discover a time capsule from 1982 and get the idea to attack Earth in the form of massive arcade-game icons -- notably "Pac-Man," "Centipede" and "Donkey Kong." Humanity's best hope is Sam Brenner (Sandler), a one-time video game champ who peaked as a teenager. Along with some fellow nerds from his past, Brenner must use his hand-eye coordination skills to save the world.
Sandler excels at playing underappreciated guys like Brenner, but the other characters are a mixed bag. Josh Gad, as conspiracy nut Ludlow Lamonsoff, tends to grate, while Peter Dinklage, as Donkey Kong champ Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant, speaks in a slightly unsettling African-American dialect. Michelle Monaghan, playing Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten, does what she can as Sandler's love interest. Kevin James is likable as their sidekick, Will Cooper, who also happens to be the U.S. president.
"Pixels," directed by Chris Columbus, is based on a 2010 French short film that lasts just more than two minutes, which may explain why this 105-minute version feels both overstretched and underdeveloped.
The effects are delightful -- it's fun to see Washington, D.C., transformed into a giant Pac-Man grid -- but the script, by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, feels thin. The aliens are poorly explained: All we know of them is that they send messages disguised as Hall and Oates.
Those are two of many figures in "Pixels" that won't mean much to anyone outside of Sandler's target demographic.