How many times in life do you think an everyday person would devote mental energy to dolphin genitalia? No, we’re not talking about marine biologists. Yes, on average is fine and guesstimates are OK. One … one time? Seems about right. (Radiolab is a popular podcast, after all.)
Were I to remember anything of Desperados several decades from now, it would be the unexpected elevation of my lifetime’s consideration of dolphin genitals — up a notch to two. Such things are hard to forget in a capacity of public radio or public nuisance. How else to describe a CGI dolphin slapping Nasim Pedrad’s face with its greasy penis after it sexually rubs against her?
It’s one of many times when you’ll wonder why no one came to their senses while making this movie, which premieres today on Netflix. There are also jokes about human semen — specifically that of a 12-year-old boy after an inadvertent frotteuristic encounter with Pedrad’s character. Does someone get a faceful of vomit? Absolutely. Does a man injure his testicles and exclaim “Ow! My balls!”? Well, some people think we’re actually in Idiocracy now, so why not?
The frantically foul stuff stands out as the most odious aspect of Desperados (which also somehow misses the low-bar expectations of bawdiness set by the similarly plotted Road Trip). But it’s also a disappointingly facile exploration of female friendship from screenwriter Ellen Rapoport and director LP. Bridesmaids, Girls Trip and the underrated Rough Night (the best of all those) showed that raunch and rapport need not be mutually exclusive in this arena. But when it’s not scatologically immersed, Desperados often feels like ideas battling for screen time rather than a trio of friends facing a test of a believable, natural dynamic.
Wesley (Pedrad) is a down-on-her-luck corporate finance drone turned guidance counselor who’s looking for work in Los Angeles. We meet her talking her way out of a job at a Catholic school, her modesty stopping at self-censoring the word “fuck” while advocating masturbation to a nun. Wesley has had 17 job interviews, twice as many bad dates and so much debt that she’s stealing snacks from the kid she’s babysitting. So when she stumbles into a potential romance with Jared (Robbie Amell) — quite literally, as she chooses a meet-cute over medical attention — Wesley is eager to hold onto whatever driftwood she can find. (That Jared still listens to 311 unironically in the year of our lord 2020 feels like a wasted joke opportunity, and Amell plays him like a bohunk version of that annoying Chotchkie’s waiter from Office Space.)
However, Jared ghosts Wesley soon after they get physical. (It’s the rare moment when LP demonstrates visual panache for how soon sizzle turns to silence and then seething rage.) Or so Wesley thinks before Jared calls her from a hospital bed in Cabo San Lucas — where he’s been in a coma after a car accident. He’ll be home soon and feels terrible for leaving her in the lurch. All good, right? One problem: Wesley — egged on by longtime friends Brooke (Anna Camp) and Kaylie (Sarah Burns) — has sent Jared a drunkenly conceived scorched-earth email that excoriates the girth of his penis, the attentiveness of his love-making and, of all things, having a dead father.
So begin the hijinks as Wesley, Brooke and Kaylie — the latter two dealing with their own foibles of marriage and motherhood — head to Cabo to intercept Jared’s devices and delete the email. While there, Wesley runs into Sean (Lamorne Morris), an architect (hello my old trope) with whom she had a previously disastrous blind date. If you think the filmmakers won’t lean on Morris and Pedrad’s residually sweet chemistry from New Girl — or that the algorithm won’t RIYL this to you after watching New Girl — well, enjoy your first romantic comedy and inaugural data mining of your preferences.
Pedrad and Morris are simply too comfortable locking into each other’s comic wavelength to completely lose us as Wesley and Sean discover they might be well matched. Morris, in particular, musters some impressive dramatic feelings influencing his casually dismissive attitudes. All that does is save Desperados from some half-star hell of horrible filmmaking.
Brooke and Kaylie enable Wesley’s terrible behavior until the script calls for them to scold it. Heather Graham turns up as a shaman to remind you of The Hangover in the way Chevy Chase turns up in talking-dog movies to remind you he was once a comedian. The all-too-frequent flat circling of time in Netflix films takes hold at the 45-minute mark when you realize an hour remains.
“You’re always later in your own story than you think,” Sean tells Wesley during a particularly low moment. Well, not when you’re watching Desperados.