Here's a shocker: In Pixels, his latest, Adam Sandler plays a stunted man-child who turns out to be very, very special. That's his ecological niche: the Manic Potbellied Dream Dork, or, if you prefer, the fragile Sand-Man. Sandler films have predictable scripts: In two hours or less, he'll transform from loser to hero, often tacking on an improbable girlfriend, and often without transforming at all. (An Oscar for the first costume designer who gets him to wear a shirt that fits.) Instead, it's everyone else in the cast who must about-face and appreciate him. And if we don't admire him fast enough, like his Pixels love interest Michelle Monaghan fails to at first, he'll call us a snob.
Pixels, directed by King of the Kiddos Chris Columbus, freezes Sandler as pre-teen video game legend Sam Brenner, whose life peaked when he placed second in a Donkey Kong championship. An egomaniac named Eddie (Peter Dinklage) took first. But in Sandler's world, failures always win. Ego and approval ratings intertwine when the planet Volula mistakenly interprets a VHS tape of Sam's Donkey Kong competition, shot out to space for lord only knows what reason, as a declaration of war. The aliens invade Earth with weapons they believe we'll understand: Galaga drones, skyscraper-gobbling Tetris blocks, and angry-pickle escapees from Burger Time. If Sam, Eddie, and buddy Ludlow (Josh Gad) can't best the Volulans two out of three, the Earth is lost.
Sandler wins, as always. Every year, he's gotta star in an expensive, anti-intellectual gasbag that anoints him the Best Boy in the World. But audiences are running out of quarters.