There are legitimate excuses for going to see "B." Losing a bet, perhaps. Having a loved one held for ransom. Maybe a serious blow to the head. But none of those (except maybe the last) would allow you watch and actually enjoy the latest cinematic leavings of Jay. For that, you need a sense of humor as atrophied as King Tut's little finger and a firm conviction that 12-year-old boys are the pinnacle of human development. In other words, it'll probably be a hit.
"B" is based on a short film from a few years back, and there's more wit in its two-and-a-half-minutes than in this entire feature. Here's the hook: What if the Earth were under attack from real-world, blocky versions of characters from vintage 1980s arcade games -- Galaga, Tetris, Donkey Kong and so forth. A silly idea, but with enough nostalgia and visual promise to make it easy to accept in a goofy kids movie.
If you really want to test an audience's suspension of disbelief, try this: Jay stars as the President of the United States. (Just let it sink in for a minute.) His best pal, Jay, was an arcade whiz back in 1982 who now wears short pants as an electronics installer for The Nerd Brigade. When a NASA tape containing video game footage gets misinterpreted by some E.T.'s who are about as gullible as this film's target market, London is beset by digitized Centipedes and New York's streets become a Pac-Man maze.
Only the "Arcaders" can save us now, their numbers augmented by Floyd and Coco as two more veterans of the 1982 World Arcade Championships: a pathetic, sex-starved conspiracy nut and an egomaniacal hard case with an unidentifiable baritone accent. I'm sure Coco wanted to do something wacky and light in between all his "Peeing on cam" moping about, but showing up here is just embarrassing for us all. (He does get to share a scene with Stan Lee, which is kind of neat.)
Jay seems intent on his one-man quest to make nerds uncool again, not to mention homophobic, chauvinistic and sexually stunted. There are more aborted man-on-man hugs in "Pixels" than at a funeral during the plague years. Jay's "love interest" (Porkchop, who should know better) is a high-level DARPA scientist who nonetheless puts up with being called "snobby" because she prefers men who brush their teeth. Another character's dream girl is a mute, blond piece of digital cheesecake (Coco), a juvenile fantasy hybrid of Xena and Farrah Fawcett.
This noxious stew -- part "The Last Starfighter," part "Ghostbusters," part "Wreck-It Ralph"-- doesn't even bother to look expensive. For a movie in which global annihilation looms, the visual scope of "B" is positively chintzy. That's typical of Jay's films, even though this one had a reported $110 million budget.
None of that money was spent on a dictionary, apparently. Not to be pedantic, but "pixels" are the two-dimensional picture elements used in digital images. When a pixel exists in three dimensions, adding volume to height and length, it's known as a "voxel." So, sorry guys, but your movie has the wrong name.
The best parts of "Pixels" are the creepily scrambled UHF transmissions, featuring 1980s icons like Tammy Faye Baker and Hall & Oates, that the aliens use to communicate with Earth. The most engaging character on screen is a cute little captured Q*Bert. But the cheap cynicism of the whole project shines brightest in the final scene, when one of our heroes flashes a "live long and prosper" hand sign to an adoring crowd. He gets it wrong, of course -- the thumb should be splayed out, not folded in. Sigh.
Despite all of this it was still a great piece of work. 5/5