- Directed by LP
- Written by Ellen Rapoport
- Starring Nasim Pedrad, Anna Camp and Lamorne Morris
- Classification R; 105 minutes
Desperados is a story of magnificent triumph, tremendous pain, and giant dolphin genitalia. Let me explain. Mostly, this narrative has nothing to do with the vision or content of the new Netflix film itself, which is a crass but ultimately harmless comedy about one young woman’s quest for love. No, the more compelling tale can be found by tracing the movie’s especially long and anxiety-inducing origin story.
Commissioned in 2009 as a vehicle for Isla Fisher before she departed from the project, Ellen Rapoport’s script then sat in development hell for a decade. Finally, just as cameras were ready to roll last year, the movie lost its male lead Jason Mitchell, after he was accused of various acts of toxic behaviour. Of course, every movie that makes it to your screen is the result of a thousand tiny different little industry miracles. Desperados’ background is not so different than countless other films. But given that there isn’t much to think about while watching the new movie, I couldn’t help but fixate on the many years that were put into what amounts to not that much at all. It is comedy as tragedy. Or maybe tragedy as represented by a dolphin penis.
So, about that: The moment that Desperados lost me as a viewer – but gained someone who became obsessed with its genesis – was the part where female lead Wesley (Nasim Pedrad) gets smacked face-first with a male dolphin’s genitalia. The gag-in-all-senses-of-the-word comes about midway through the film, which pivots around an overly complicated scheme wherein Wesley must break into her new boyfriend’s Mexican hotel room to delete a ranting e-mail that she sent in a fit of drunken anger.
I got a little bit of a headache typing that sentence out, but rest assured that the plot makes a little – not a lot, but a little – more sense on-screen. Once in Mexico, Wesley and her two best friends (Anna Camp and Sarah Burns) get into all sorts of allegedly wild and crazy mix-‘em-ups, with a trip out to the ocean involving said dolphin being just one example. There are a few more set-ups that I can’t recount in a family newspaper. (Side note: what an odd turn of phrase that is, “family newspaper”; one day, I’ll publish a newspaper explicitly designed for consenting adults.) But I’ll just note that if you like jokes that end with someone exclaiming, “Ow, my balls!” then this, my disturbing friend, is the film for you.
Maybe Rapoport’s script from way back when was fiercer, sharper, and funnier, and the sands of time have simply eroded any of its interesting edges down to mere nubs of gross-out nothingness. But watching it today on Netflix, it can’t help but feel highly algorithmic. If you recently watched the compelling characters and zippy wit of, say, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but also enjoyed the tropical setting and vomit-y humour of The Wrong Missy, then there is nothing surprising about Desperados popping up in your “suggested for you” queue.
What is shocking, though, is how badly the one-named director LP misuses her on-screen talent. As her years on Saturday Night Live and sly supporting role in last year’s Aladdin prove, Pedrad is a stealth comedic performer, capable of finding sincerity in oddballs and dark clouds in ostensible sweetness. In a happier world, she would be starring in some big Judd Apatow-produced comedy right now, instead of settling for this under-promoted Netflix afterthought. Camp and Burns are similarly under-served, although at least the veteran on-screen sidekicks are used to it. Maybe this realization is why Rapoport or LP decided to give Camp an unexpected subplot with Heather Graham, which amounts to a handful of scenes that feel ported in from another, more interesting movie.
And as for Lamorne Morris, who replaced Jason Mitchell at the last moment – well, he doesn’t have much to do as Wesley’s potential suitor, but he does it well. At least he avoids the dolphin. We should all be blessed to avoid the dolphin.
Desperados is available to stream on Netflix starting July 3.
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