“The Out-Laws swings for the fences, but not even its all-star cast is able to lift it up into memorable territory.”
- Brosnan and Barkin's pitch-perfect lead performances
- A bevy of scene-stealing supporting cast members
- Adam Devine's exasperating lead performance
- An uneven, oddly raunchy comedic tone throughout
- Tyler Spindel's largely unimpressive visual style
The Out-Laws isn’t as bad as it could have been, but that’s not saying much. The new Netflix comedy from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is a poorly executed attempt at crossing a Meet the Parents-esque in-law comedy with a gadget-centric heist thriller. It’s also the newest effort from Happy Madison favorite Tyler Spindel, whose previous directorial feature, 2020’s The Wrong Missy, is best left forgotten in the darkest corner of Netflix’s increasingly unwieldy library.
The fact that The Out-Laws isn’t totally unwatchable, in other words, is a miracle in and of itself, and one that should be accredited to the film’s very game and capable bench of supporting players. The film gives everyone from Richard Kind and Julie Hagerty to Michael Rooker and Jackie Sandler the chance to go all the way up to 11, and they do so without so much as blinking an eye. The result is a film that alternates between unbearably grating and mildly amusing. That may not represent a victory for anyone involved, but it’s not a complete failure, either.
The film’s plot, itself a hat on a hat, is simple enough. It follows Owen Browning (Adam Devine), a bumbling bank manager who is just a few days away from marrying Parker (Nina Dobrev), an easy-going yoga instructor, when The Out-Laws begins. Owen’s plans take an unexpected turn, however, when Parker’s estranged parents, Billy (Pierce Brosnan) and Lilly McDermott (Ellen Barkin), arrive in town and begin to express their concerns over Owen’s compatibility with their daughter. In case that wasn’t bad enough, Billy and Lilly’s arrival coincides with a shocking robbery at Owen’s bank.
Before long, it’s revealed that Billy and Lilly are not in fact, as their daughter believes, international charity workers, but a pair of notorious bank robbers known as the “Ghost Bandits.” Owen realizes this, but he’s not able to convince anyone else of his future in-laws’ guilt before Parker is kidnapped and held for ransom by Rehan (Poorna Jagannathan), a kooky, merciless former associate of Billy and Lilly’s, who demands that they compensate her for a past betrayal in exchange for their daughter’s life.
From there, The Out-Laws transforms into a full-blown heist comedy, one in which Owen agrees to join in on Billy and Lilly’s illegal schemes in order to rescue his fiancée. The robberies they subsequently commit are often too bizarre for their own good — a flaw that’s made worse by Devine’s unhinged, unrestrained, and frequently unbearable performance. The film is at its best whenever it tempers Devine’s antic lead turn by shifting its focus to its more even-keeled cast members — namely, Brosnan, Barkin, and Rooker. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do that nearly enough to balance out its own overly brash energy.
Devine’s go-for-broke performance is, instead, matched by The Out-Laws’ raunchy, misplaced sense of humor. The film features more X-rated conversations and vulgar jokes than it knows what to do with, most of which land with a thud not because they’re inherently unfunny but because they have no place in its story. The Out-Laws’ inability to exercise any level of restraint or discernment when it comes to its various jokes and gags is ultimately its greatest weakness. It’s a film that has stronger ingredients than it arguably should but an inability to determine how much to use of each or how to put them together.
Several of its cast members are wasted, including Dobrev, who’s given nothing to do in The Out-Laws. That said, the film does seem to know how lucky it is to have actors like Brosnan, Barkin, Kind, and Hagerty. As the film’s eponymous bank robbers, Brosnan and Barkin get a chance to exercise their severely underrated comedic muscles. They effortlessly fit into their characters’ cool-as-hell personas, and their clear awareness of The Out-Laws’ mediocrity only makes it easier to accept Billy and Lilly as a pair of bandits who really are too good for all of this.
Opposite them, Hagerty and Kind shine as the gloriously unfiltered, judgmental parents of Devine’s Owen. The two stars are the only members of the film’s cast who actually manage to make its out-of-left-field raunchy streak work for them. Adam Sandler’s wife, Jackie, meanwhile, nearly steals an entire sequence on her own as the perpetually drunk co-owner of a vegan(?) bakery that ends up caught in the crossfire of Rehan’s feud with Billy and Lilly.
The Out-Laws’ other highlights include a second-act car chase that is surprisingly propulsive, well-staged, and delightfully screwball. It’s a testament to either the strength of the set piece itself or the weakness of everything else in the film that no other sequence in The Out-Laws comes close to touching it. Either way, it marks the high point of a film that certainly isn’t remarkable but also isn’t offensively bad. The day after I watched it, I’d forgotten I had, so it should fit right in alongside so many of Netflix’s other mid-budget comedies.
The Out-Laws is streaming now on Netflix.
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