The Out-Laws review – Pierce Brosnan can’t save limp Netflix comedy

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Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a film critic more than pressing play on a new comedy and immediately seeing those ominous four words: “A Happy Madison Production”. Like a dead canary in a coal mine, they’re a warning sign. And they’re scarier still when followed by the name of a comedian who’s not Adam Sandler. Because whatever one thinks of the tropical vacations the Sandman takes on his own company dime, the true Happy Madison stinkers are the ones even he wouldn’t headline.

Paul Blart. Joe Dirt. Bucky Larson. To that D-list directory of pratfallers, one can now add Owen Browning, the squishy doofus Adam DeVine plays in The Out-Laws, courtesy of Happy Madison by way of Netflix. DeVine, from the cult sitcom Workaholics, is a bundle of nice-guy nerves, a cartoon beta. He’s loudly meek, somehow. If Jim Carrey had a younger cousin who transferred from Bible college to law school, this would be his energy.

DeVine’s Owen has a problem. He strongly suspects that the masked criminals who just knocked off the bank he manages are, in fact, the long-estranged parents of his fiancée (Nina Dobrev), back in town for their daughter’s nuptials. The two are played by Pierce Brosnan and Ellen Barkin, offering complimentary shades of disdain for their future son-in-law. Neither look as embarrassed as you’d expect by the end of this gauntlet of mean-spirited slapstick. Brosnan, perhaps, lost his capacity for that emotion after his big number in Mamma Mia! He growls many of his lines here in his native brogue, looks cool in leather and gets in a quick quip about his time in 007’s tux.

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The wittiest thing about The Out-Laws is its title. The film is basically Meet the Parents if said parents were master crooks instead of CIA operatives. That is, until it turns into a full-blown action-comedy, splashing the three-camera scenario with squibs. This allows the director Tyler Spindel, who made the somehow-worse The Wrong Missy, to answer the burning question, “What if one of the bank robbers in Heat was dressed as Shrek?”

The violence is redder and the language bluer than what you’ll find in most Sandler vehicles: when not blowing holes in her henchmen’s heads, the bored kingpin villain (an overqualified Poorna Jagannathan) is joking about a different kind of blowing. The sheer volume of dick jokes – including a scene where Owen grabs what he thinks is a ripcord during a pointless skydiving excursion with Brosnan’s desperado – betrays the insecurity behind the gags. Most of the comedy is built around that sturdy standby, the wimp forced to toughen up to prove himself.

Picking up the laughter slack are ringers that deserve better: Richard Kind gets set on fire, Lauren Lapkus gets suggestive with a bank vault, and Lil Rel Howery presumably sets a new world record for most funny best friend/coworker roles played by a single hustling comedian. All will hopefully come to regard The Out-Laws as a career lowlight, though it’s nowhere near the bottom of the Happy Madison heap. The grading curve is forgiving in the house Deuce Bigalow built.

  • The Out-Laws is now available on Netflix