TEXAS, USA — A movie fading from memory faster than I can write about it, Netflix’s “The Out-Laws” is a Happy Madison production whose first mortal sin is robbing us of the opportunity to see Pierce Brosnan and Adam Sandler – Happy Madison’s founder – sharing the screen. To be clear, both have far better ways to spend their time than this sleepwalking action-comedy. But at least our raw familiarity with Sandler would’ve nudged “The Out-Laws” a bit closer to the streaming baseline of Watcheable Distraction instead of 90-Minute Whoopie Cushion.
Instead it’s Adam Devine, whose exaggerated style of performance is the actorly equivalent of going 90 in a 35 mph zone, in the lead role of Owen Browning, a manager who suspects his fiance’s parents – played by Brosnan and Ellen Barkin – to be hardened robbers. An increasingly dispiriting chain reaction of scenes ensues, though “The Out-Laws” plays more like a series of skits comprising a visual “What Not To Do” manual for filmmakers; the action is dull, characters are caricatures, and the comedy is stuck in a tiresome cycle of faux-risque, random cultural reference points and lazy tonal fakeouts. Stick around long enough and you’ll witness the ludicrous sight of a man in Shrek cosplay leading police on a destructive chase through a graveyard, perhaps the movie’s most engaging moment if only because you remember that human screenwriters – two of them! – allegedly devised the sequence and not ChatGPT.
It’s both impressive and maddening that the cleverest thing about “The Out-Laws” is its title; the more the movie goes on, the more it exudes a suspicious aroma that it was produced merely to meet Netflix's weekly quota. There are barely any stakes to speak of holding it together… though, to be fair, emotional investment is the last thing we should expect from a Netflix movie that can’t bother spending the money to make a fiery hibachi grill mishap look convincing. Brosnan’s enduring roguish charm could use a “Mamma Mia 3,” Richard Kind could use some less painful jokes and director Tyler Spindel could use a veteran’s helping hand in making something out of his cast’s better pieces.
Still, there is something to be learned about the art of movies from “The Out-Laws,” namely that audiences can easily distinguish a green-screen skydiving scene in a time when Tom Cruise is doing it for real. And, that certain comedic actors shine brighter when they’re popping in and out of the spotlight instead of owning it. Case in point: Lauren Lapkus's fantastically loony rival bank manager, memorable in a C-tier role that would've been exhausting if she had any more screentime.
By comparison, Devine begins running on empty after a few scenes anchored by the impish unlikeability that served him just fine in the background of “Pitch Perfect.” But in the leading role, his outlandishness diffuses any other attributes “The Out-Laws” needed to call itself a movie, namely suspense, boldness, pathos. His capabilities, and our attention, are quickly kicked over the edge of a lethally wide chasm between high-concept and low-IQ.
"The Out-Laws" is rated R for language throughout, violence, sexual material and brief drug use. It's now streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Starring Adam Devine, Ellen Barkin, Pierce Brosnan, Nina Dobrev
Directed by Tyler Spindel, written by Evan Turner and Ben Zazove