What if you managed a bank, and your fiancée’s folks turned out to be notorious bank robbers who saw their prospective son-in-law as the perfect patsy for their next hit? Not a bad setup for hijinks and hilarity. That’s what the filmmakers behind “The Out-Laws” are hoping, anyway. Produced by Adam Sandler (among others) and directed by Tyler Spindel, the not-so-original Netflix original plays like “Meet the Parents” crossed with “Fun with Dick and Jane.” Seeing as how the former inspired several sequels and the latter a remake, the situational comedy on offer is hardly fresh, though it still could (and should) have been funnier.
As Owen Browning, Adam Devine takes the mantle from Sandler to play a schlubby everyman partnered with a gorgeous woman (Nina Dobrev) out of his league. Naturally, he’s kind-hearted and willing to sacrifice all for his one true love. And that’s how the audience knows he’s worthy of her. On the week of their wedding, her long-absent parents (Ellen Barkin and Pierce Brosnan) show up after many years of estrangement. It’s quickly revealed that they were in hiding from their former partner (Poorna Jagannathan), after relieving her of large sums of money. Conveniently, their future son-in-law manages a bank, and so a scheme is set in motion. This being a comedy, no one will get hurt and the sweet guy will keep his beautiful woman.
“The Out-Laws” wrings its humor from its mild-mannered, by-the-book lead character being forced to break the rules he’s kept all his life. The laughs should come easy as the premise of an everyman in an out-of-control situation has given many comedic actors their best roles, though Ben Zazove and Evan Turner’s screenplay mostly resorts to juvenile humor of the broadest terms. The jokes target the lowest common denominator, while the tension introduced between new family members forced to cohabitate dissipates before it takes hold.
Mixing comedy with action leads “The Out- Laws” to uneven results. The bank robbery scenes are blandly choreographed with nary an amusing set-piece, apart from one where Devine tussles with a larger man. That showdown delivers a few chuckles from the unexpected reactions he and his adversary have for each other. Though Hollywood movies have already numbed audiences to the destruction of property (especially cars), “The Out- Laws” goes one step further, asking viewers to find the destruction of tombstones funny. In a long car chase, several vehicles barrel through a cemetery, destroying everything in their way — atrocious behavior from the guy who’s supposed to have the audience’s sympathy.
Playing Owen, Devine has lots of energy but none of Sandler’s charm. His comedy is of the loud type, full of face mugging, pratfalls and even grunting. A stronger script might have served his physical agility with comedic set-pieces. Instead, the writing mostly takes the easiest way out. Brosnan attempts a send-up of his most famous role as a sleek and suave action man. The filmmakers help the audience get the joke by including an unnecessary callback to James Bond that instead of wringing a laugh stops the film dead for a minute. As his partner, Barkin just goes through the motions, barely staying in character when it’s not her turn to say something. As Devine’s parents, Julie Hagerty and Richard Kind try to make the best of what they are given, which sadly isn’t much.
A by-the-books comedy, “The Out-Laws” misses its target. It doesn’t make its audience laugh, and it wastes its cast by putting them in the most obvious situations and giving them forgettable jokes. The fact Devine produced and developed the project makes it all the more disappointing that it squanders his manic energy. He’s in a rare position to make what he wants at Netflix, which means he’s basically robbing from himself.