The pandemic has made desperadoes of all of us. There’s a strange kind of helplessness that sets in as home-bound film fans search for a decent movie to watch. Mind you, the medium has existed for more than a century, and its classics have never been more available than they are now. But unless you subscribe to a cinephile service like the Criterion Channel or Mubi, the good stuff isn’t curated in a way to help audiences stuck at home. And so, unsure what to watch, we settle for movies like “Desperados,” another lazy example of comedy-as-content from the Netflix machine, and among the service’s most popular performers for July.
If you liked such Netflix originals as “Ibiza” and “Wine Country,” try “Desperados,” or so the algorithm goes. Even the movie seems to have been made by computer, resulting in — to prove that leading lady Nasim Pedrad deserves a better movie. (So do her co-stars, and so does the audience.)
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Already appreciated by “Saturday Night Live” fans for her spot-on impersonations of Kim Kardashian and Arianna Huffington, Pedrad does her best Sandra Bullock here, channeling that wide-eyed, slightly klutzy, eminently relatable energy that made the “Miss Congeniality” actor a go-to rom-com star in the ’90s. Pedrad plays Wesley, an out-of-work guidance counselor who decides her latest one-night stand is “the one,” only to be disappointed when, after five days, he hasn’t checked in.
Crushed, she invites her two besties, Brooke (Anna Camp) and Kaylie (Sarah Burns), over for drinks, and together they write him a drunk email, full of nasty insults and off-color emojis, which Wesley immediately regrets. The missive ought to be the most outrageous thing in the movie, and maybe it will be for those who’ve always wanted to go off on an ex, but it’s an early sign of director LP’s tendency to underdeliver — even on such out-there gags as humping a dolphin and shagging a spiritual guru (Heather Graham).
Turns out the guy, Jared (Robbie Amell), hadn’t ghosted Wesley after all. While her friends are pressing “Send,” he calls from Mexico to explain that he spent the past few days in a coma after being involved in some kind of south-of-the-border mishap. Is Wesley concerned? Yes, but not about Jared. She’s concerned that her future husband might read her email and conclude that she’s unstable.
For the record, Wesley is unstable. That’s essentially the defining trait of her personality: She suffers epic delusions, wild mood swings and a total lack of self-awareness. If Pedrad herself weren’t so appealing, her character would have no friends and, quite likely, a restraining order against her. Instead, Wesley has two inexplicably loyal amigas who agree to accompany her to Cabo San Lucas, where she can break into Jared’s room, delete the email and hurry back to Los Angeles by the time he recovers. If this seems like a terrible idea, rest assured that the plan was never supposed to work. Rather, it is what’s known as a Recipe for Comedy — one that turns out about as well as a self-isolating bachelor’s quarantine-cooking attempts, but only a fraction as funny.
Sample joke: While Wesley and her gal pals are checking in at the Las Playas Resort Hotel, a vibrator falls out of her purse, only to be picked up by a 12-year-old named Nolan (Toby Grey). It’s meant to be mortifying, and no doubt it would be if it happened to you, but a viewer would be right to wonder what Wesley was doing with a vibrator — in her carry-on — for such a mission. Except that would be like asking why she doesn’t just go to see Jared in the hospital and explain the situation.
In both cases, the answer is simple: “Desperados” is a farce, and as such, it depends on manufacturing elaborate misunderstandings. The running joke here is that Wesley is repeatedly perceived as some kind of incorrigible pedophile, as nearly every scheme — like stripping down to a towel and pretending to be locked out of Jared’s room — ends with some kind of inappropriate interaction between her and Nolan. As luck would have it, Wesley finds a supportive ally in Sean (Lamorne Morris), whom she met a few days earlier on a blind date back in Los Angeles (actually, almost the whole movie, including the L.A. bar scenes, was shot in Mexico and doubles as a kind of wacky tourist commercial for the country). Sean just so happens to be staying at the same hotel, and represents a different kind of man from Jared: one who appreciates her eccentricities.
As an aside, “desperate” is one of the ugliest words the patriarchy/pickup artists/slut shamers have invented for a kind of woman who thinks that a man will make her happy — and rendering it into faux Spanish and surrounding the caricature with Mexican stereotypes doesn’t suddenly make it any cuter. Maybe readers don’t want such critiques in their rom-com reviews, but it would be wrong to give LP and screenwriter Ellen Rapoport a pass for perpetuating these ideas.
It’s no solution for the movie to suggest that Jared’s not as perfect as Wesley thinks. How could he be? His interest in her is based on the fact that she’s misled him into thinking that she’s “normal” — a half-developed joke in which she suppresses her personality to be the kind of woman he wants. But “Desperados” still belongs to a genre in which audiences expect Wesley to wind up with a guy, and because the movie telegraphs its intentions early and often, the “raunchy” set-pieces feel like road bumps en route to a too obvious and disappointingly tidy conclusion. Do yourself a favor and spend five minutes — and as many dollars — researching something else to watch instead.
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