Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years, his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big-budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join Ben Sears and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley. (If and as Happy Madison Productions releases new films, as they have in this instance, Ben will return to the Happy Valley.)
What makes a particular performer so suitable for the Happy Madison stable of actors — besides proximity to its founder, Adam Sandler? Each of them brings a little variety to their characters, which is part of what endeared them to audiences from the beginning. David Spade is the low-status jackass. Kevin James is the lovable goofball teddy bear, trying to fill the void left by Chris Farley. Sandler is the everyman, molding into whatever (mostly) generic character the film needs. In the early days of this project, Rob Schneider was the wiry physical comedian, doing whatever was necessary to generate laughs. Aside from the ensemble nature of The Ridiculous 6 and the two-hander of The Wrong Missy, it’s been incredibly rare for a Happy Madison production to feature a new face outside of its basic cadre of performers.
Since the 2011 premiere of the sitcom Workaholics, Adam Devine has run in parallel comedic circles to the Happy Madison crew, so he makes perfect sense for the next generation of HM stars now that Sandler et al. have reached middle age. Devine takes the lead in The Out-Laws, now streaming on Netflix. (Perhaps it’s a coincidence that director Tyler Spindel’s previous Happy Madison film was The Wrong Missy, where Spade took a backseat to Lauren Lapkus’s inspired tornado of chaos.) And just like Sandler and his pals, you have to really be on Devine’s wavelength to appreciate his livewire plasticity — on full display here and the source of more than half of the comedy in the film, which wears out a little too quickly.
Maybe it’s reductive to say that The Out-Laws trafficks in the kind of “masculinity in peril” humor that early Happy Madison films relied on, but it’s at the heart of the conflict between characters played by Devine and Pierce Brosnan. The film also returns to the oil-and-water conflict Spindel utilized in 2018’s Father of the Year (and it’s a miracle that I can remember literally anything from that film).
Devine stars as Owen, a milquetoast bank manager finally meeting his future in-laws, Billy and Lilly, played by Brosnan and Ellen Barkin. Brosnan certainly has proven his comic sensibilities to complement the rugged charm he brought to James Bond; yes, of course there’s a meta reference to it in this film. But it should come as no surprise that those sensibilities are wasted on Evan Turner and Ben Zazove’s basic script.
Thankfully for The Out-Laws, it’s populated by solid and reliable character actors to round out its ensemble. Richard Kind, Michael Rooker, Julie Hagerty, Lil Rel Howery, and Laci Mosely all provide enough laughs for their broadly drawn characters. Each of them has one note to hit over and over throughout the film, but they provide a bit of color in an otherwise monochromatic picture.
There isn’t much in the film to drag it down to the depths of the wider Happy Madison canon — or even the other films of Tyler Spindel — but there isn’t much to return to down the road. However, audiences more inclined toward Devine and his brand of comedy will come away with a more positive reaction. Despite the likable ensemble cast, The Out-Laws relies too heavily on him to make uninspired situations and dialogue funny, especially when its script dives into familiar territory.
Maybe this film is the first sign of a changing of the guard at Happy Madison, the start of a new generation of talent that appeals to audiences that didn’t grow up on Sandler, James, Spade or Chris Rock. I do think there is a world where Devine could stand out in a Happy Madison film, given the right material. I wouldn’t be upset if he were to return in a supporting role of some kind in the future either. But when it comes to The Out-Laws, it’s a check Devine can’t cash.
- If you include the Scary Madison entry The Shortcut, The Out-Laws is officially the 50th Happy Madison film. Has there been any growth over the past 50 films? While the humor has mostly matured since its inception, you’ll still definitely see flashes of jokes and plot developments today that would have fit right in in the early days.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Devine’s Workaholics co-star and friend Blake Anderson tags along here and adds essentially nothing. At least Spindel had the good sense to bring Lapkus back as an insane rival bank manager, bringing a jolt of chaotic energy to the proceedings. If Netflix were ever dumb enough to greenlight a sequel, they’d be foolish to leave her out. And there are yet more bank managers; Dean Winters, who also appeared in Father of the Year, also makes an impression as the world’s most incompetent bank manager.
- Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. Rooker’s FBI agent suspects Owen robbed his own bank despite security cameras clearly indicating he was held at gunpoint and being only only one of two bandits.
- Fart Joke Counter: None!
- NEXT TIME: Is it a sequel to Uncut Gems or just a coincidence that Adam Sandler and Idina Metzel play a married Jewish couple in You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah? We’ll find out on August 25!