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I suppose I should be grateful that the third film of Adam Sandler’s Netflix contract was not as terrible as it could have been. He disgusted me to no end with cringe-worthy Native Americans satire and scatological scenes of horse droppings in The Ridiculous Six. He shocked me with how sexist, homophobic and downright mean he could be in The Do-Over, in addition to nearly making me vomit from the grossest three-way I’ve ever witnessed on film. The best I can say about Sandy Wexler is that it didn’t make me recoil from being grossed out or feeling uncomfortable. It did give me a massive headache for Sandler’s ear-splitting titular character though. Progress?
Actually, calling Sandy Wexler a character might not be accurate. To embody the role of a consistent liar of a talent agent, Sandler throws on dorky clothes and speaks in his most nasally of Jewish stereotype voices. It’s that familiar nails-on-the-chalkboard voice that veteran movie critics know quite well of Sandler’s work. Surprisingly, he doesn’t say anything that offensive about his religion or others. There’s also no scene where we get to hear him wail while he has violent diarrhea or an awkward orgasm. The lack of crudeness and offensiveness allows the audience to appreciate just how unbearable this character is even when trying to be a nice guy.
Nothing about this premise is all that original. The idea was based off a visual effect short of the same title and the story is ripped straight from an episode of Futurama. Slam them both together with the usual lazy writing of Happy Madison productions and you have one big mess of a movie about video game themed aliens invading Earth. The aliens – which we never see out of the form of licensed video game characters – declare war on Earth after viewing some of our video games from 1982. I never thought Pac Man or Galaga were declarations of war, but what do I know about aliens? I can tell you I don’t know much about these aliens considering how little of their intent is revealed.
To combat this threat, the United States decides to enlist the aged video game champions of 1982 comprised of Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage. Why are they recruited as opposed to all the other video game champions or alien experts of the past three decades? From what I can gather, Sandler is apparently able to recognize that the Galaga enemies were from the arcade version and not the home console version. Why is this important? It’s the script’s laughable excuse for using men in their 40’s for a video game themed movie. Could they have at least tried to make the scenario plausible and maybe abduct everybody on Earth born after 1982? It wouldn’t make much sense, but would be far more plausible.
Pixels banks entirely on nostalgia. Most of its comedy seems to derive from the mere sight of a CGI Pac Man devouring cars and Centipede ripping up buildings. Director Chris Columbus crowds the screen with so many of the visual gags, perhaps to cover up the script of lesser characters and dialogue. Sandler is portrayed as a tired and boring nerd that has been reduced to house calls for setting up electronics, but he’s still not above picking up chicks while on the jobs. A bad hygiene trait is forced on his character to enforce some sort of nerd stereotype. Peter Dinklage is an imprisoned champion of Donkey Kong, performing the worst accent of his entire career. Kevin James is the president of the United States and doesn’t have much to do until the third act. Josh Gad plays an alien conspiracy theorist who spends most the movie screaming.
I suppose the movie wants us to marvel at such unlikely heroes, but I’m more floored by such unlikable characters with nothing all that funny to do. Gad must instruct some soldiers on the mechanics of video games and makes a plethora of gay jokes while shouting at the men. He then spanks their butts while they are playing video games. There might have been a subplot to this humor about Gad’s character being a closeted homosexual, but such creativity is not in the cards. After all, Gad has a terrible romantic subplot about being in love with a female video game character. And if you can make any sense of that arc, I would love to hear about it.
I’m not much for video games, but even I was staring at this picture in astonishment for how much it got wrong. There are no cheat codes in Pac Man or Donkey Kong, but the scriptwriters believe every video game has a cheat code. Q-Bert pops up as an ally, but speaks in perfect English as opposed to the garbled babble he spoke in the video games. Even the title of the movie is wrong as the CG video games characters are assembled with voxels and not pixels. If the movie gets so many of these geeky facts wrong while focusing on a very geeky subject, the mind reels at just who this movie is intended for. It’s not for the geeks for its inaccuracy and it’s not for kids since they won’t get the references to Max Headroom or Hall and Oates. I can only fathom that it must be meant for baby boomers who played a lot of arcade games in the 1980’s and haven’t played one since. What an oddly specific demographic for such a terrible comedy.
The Entourage movie does little to stand on its own, acting more as a reunion special than a theatrical movie. Vincent (Adrian Grenier) and his crew have grown since the series finale, but no more than if the show continued on for a couple of seasons. Tired of just being an actor, Vinnie now aspires to direct and star in his own picture. He rallies his troops of bros and friends to make the picture a reality. Fast forward to the completion of the picture and Vinnie finds himself at odds with the worried Texan of a producer (Billy Bob Thorton). Namely, the producer’s spoiled brat of a son (Haley Joel Osment) who becomes consumed with sexual jealousy that he aims to sabotage the movie with recuts and recasting.
That would be enough of a plot for a movie, but a slew subplots are pushed into the mix to give every character enough to do. Ari (Jeremy Piven) reluctantly dives back into being an agent despite having retired and trying to work out his anger issues. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is still grappling with his acting career, but still has trouble with connecting to others in his cocky tone. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) has now lost weight, made some money and is seeking to share his life with someone special. And Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) finds himself dealing with a serious relationship as he enters into fatherhood.
If you think that’s too many subplots to cram in, just watch how the movie crams in as many celebrity cameos as it can. No less than 30 recognizable celebrities pop in to play more or less themselves. Liam Neeson tells Ari to piss off at a stoplight. Bob Saget attempts to woo some younger ladies at a party. Kelsey Grammer departs angrily from a therapist’s office – remarking to Ari about how ineffective his sessions were. Mark Wahlberg chats with Vinnie at an editing studio about his Ted movies that he hopes will never end. And the list goes on and on with cameo after cameo of celebrities mocking themselves with in-jokes and movie-related banter. For a movie buff, there’s a laugh to be had from a handful of these scenes, but the comedy of it all does start to wear a bit thin by the 28th cameo.
Why so many? The Entourage series is probably most notable for such comedy that comes in small bursts rather than engrossing arcs. As such, the movie extends itself to be a collection of episodes that proceeds so quickly through all the beats you don’t get the feeling of a send-off. More importantly, it doesn’t improve on or grow these characters past their usual personalities, only finding more celebrities hi-jinks for them to get into. So if you didn’t like these entitled boys before, you’re sure as heck not going to like them in this movie either. And even calling it a movie is stretching its writing a bit. Despite some smiles and chuckles here and there, the Entourage movie just ultimately left me wanting more from a picture that delivers modest laughs amid a rather shallow story. There’s no reason to care all that much if the movie Vinnie makes is a success because we know it will be. All you can do is distract yourself with the sex, vulgarities and cameos.
Entourage refuses to evolve, resolve or put an end to the bad boys of Hollywood. I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie so much as a handful of episodes from the show. And if that’s all a movie can offer you, you’re better off just watching the show instead.