By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As an alien race wages war on Earth using vintage arcade games, Adam Sandler leads the nerds taking the spotlight in director Chris Columbus' visual effects spectacle "Pixels."
In "Pixels," opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, aliens mistake old arcade games sent into space in a NASA time capsule as a declaration of war, and they challenge mankind to "play for the planet" with larger-than-life video games attacking Earth.
The president, modeled on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and played by Kevin James, recruits his childhood arcade friends - Adam Sandler's dorky Brenner, Josh Gad's eccentric Ludlow and Peter Dinklage's over-confident 'Fire Blaster' - to battle alien arcade games.
"They're the only ones who know how to play the games, and I was immediately taken with that concept. It just felt fresh and original in a summer of lots of superhero movies and sequels," said director Columbus.
The director, whose hit movies include 1990's "Home Alone" and two "Harry Potter" films, said his biggest challenge was using visual effects to bring games alive.
The film's appeal hinges on nostalgia for the arcade culture of the 1980s, from a giant Centipede hurtling through the skies of London to an enormous Pac-Man crunching through the streets of New York, chased by Mini Cooper 'ghosts,' and a huggable Q*bert.
The video games characters could draw a younger generation, said Columbus.
"I never had a sense of who the movie would appeal to. I'm sure the studio talked about that, but now I'm finding out that it's appealing to kids," he said.
"Pixels" is the first film for beleaguered film studio Sony Pictures that has not been significantly affected by the devastating hack last December that leaked thousands of emails, documents and five of the studio's films into the public domain.
Columbus said the only impact was the departure of Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal, whom he called "such a champion of the project" She stepped down and struck a production deal with the studio.
Made for $110 million, according to IMDB.com, "Pixels" is expected by BoxOffice.com to open with $39 million in North America this weekend.
Reviews of "Pixels" have been less than favorable. The film earned just 24 out of 100 on review aggregator Metacritic.com, and 16 percent "rotten" rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy. Editing by Jill Serjeant and Steve Orlofsky)