While Hollywood has struggled to marry its affection for bombastic big-budget franchises and its audience’s hunger for the mid-budget romantic comedies that fell out of box-office fashion long ago, Netflix picked up the slack and ran with it. But bulking up its robust library of originals with a litany of rom-com offerings — a good thing! — doesn’t always equal with quality, even for a filmmaker-friendly streamer like Netflix. For every tender, funny hit like “To All the Boys,” there’s a retrograde entry like “The Kissing Booth.” For every clever “Always Be My Maybe,” there’s a forgettable waste of a good idea like “Love Wedding Repeat.” For every crowdpleaser like “Set It Up,” there’s a “Hey, what movie was that?” like “The Last Summer.”
Now there’s “Desperados,” which plays out like a needlessly gross-out version of the incredibly similarly themed “Ibiza,” an overlooked Netflix rom-com that is as close as the platform has ever come to making its own “Girls Trip” or “Bridesmaids.” Resembling a one-season network TV series in both look and ambition (that director LP, previously known as Lauren Palmigiano, has a deep background in TV won’t surprise; that it was shot by “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” DP Tim Orr might), the film follows a trio of BFFs as they embark on an ill-conceived and ill-executed trip to Mexico to stop the seemingly inevitable discovery that its central heroine is basically insane. It could have been fun.
Former “Saturday Night Live” star Nasim Pedrad is the heroine in question, an outspoken Angeleno whose life has not turned out quite the way she hoped it might. Approaching 30, Wesley has no job, no boyfriend (her last one bilked her and promptly married the next girl he met), a staggering pile of bills, a dead bird, a shelf of dead plants, and a busted-up car. Her tendency to say whatever is on her mind doesn’t translate to a successful job search — cue Wesley giddily talking up the joys of masturbation to a nun interviewing her for a guidance counselor job at a local Catholic school — and her inability to read a room has kept her from much in the way of romantic connection.
At least she’s got her two best friends: vaguely wacky Kaylie (Sarah Burns) and classy Brooke (Anna Camp), who keep her together when everything is falling apart (read: most of the time). When Wesley is subjected to yet another bad date (with charming “New Girl” star Lamorne Morris), she’s within inches of giving up entirely … until she literally falls into the arms of her dream man (Robbie Amell) while fleeing the scene. Suddenly, Wesley’s life has hope, and she hits upon one wild idea to make sure it pans out: She will not be herself in order to hang on to Amell’s handsome and rich (if basic) Jared and live happily ever after.
First-time feature writer Ellen Rapoport has some smart ideas tucked into a largely predictable script, and Wesley’s resistance to showing her true self (all the better to keep that man!) is both understandable and rife for comedic misadventures. Suddenly, Wesley has to pretend to hate junk food and love a truly awful-looking recreational activity known as “bubble soccer,” all the better to keep Jared happy.
However, rather than ride that wave, “Desperados” pivots and turns a relatable, flinty idea into something flimsy and stupid. Jared — dumb, handsome, sweet Jared — ghosts Wesley, unleashing her inner freak and pushing her (plus Brooke, Kaylie, and a deranged amount of emojis) to fire off the most biting email imaginable and ensuring he will never, ever think she’s a normal person again. Except, well, Jared didn’t ghost her, and when Wes realizes her mistake, she and the gals embark on a trip to Mexico to get the email, charm Jared, and pretend it never happened (with all the girl power that might involve). It’s a nutty plan, but worse have inspired any number of silly comedies.
Rather than dig deeper into Wes’ heart, the bond between the gals, or even the price of the romance that is driving all kinds of stupid choices, “Desperados” morphs into a gross-out comedy with little care for its characters. It becomes a narrative ramble that fractures pretty simple stories (Kaylie and Brooke’s final-act venture into a buzzed-about wellness retreat justdoesn’t fit) into a messy, unfunny slog. As the senseless gags pile up, it becomes harder and harder to untangle what any of this is about (and if it was, at any point, amusing).
Wesley knows she’s not for everyone (“My personality is an acquired taste,” she muses early on), but that iffy self-awareness doesn’t extend to the rest of the film, which takes every opportunity for well-earned laughs and character development and turns it into something deranged — like a running gag in which a fellow resort guest thinks Wesley is a pedophile, or a truly disturbing sequence in which she’s slapped in the face by a dolphin’s penis (after the animal appears to sexually assault her).
Perhaps audiences will laugh out of shock — and, yes, when that giant pink CGI-ed appendage emerged from the water and whacked a disbelieving Pedrad right across her open mouth, even I let out a honk — but comedy has to be more than just cheap, gross gags that illicit a response steeped in revulsion. It’s got to have a heart.
“Desperados” is available to stream on Netflix today.