Had it been a decade or two ago, the stand-up comedy of Bill Burr — lightly enlightened Gen-X coastal cantankerousness given a patina of red state barroom guff — would have been molded into a moderately edgy network Monday night sitcom. But given the current age as well as the comedian’s long-standing relationship with Netflix (NFLX) (Burr’s tales of growing up bullied in the blue-collar Boston suburbs were the basis of the service’s animated show F is for Family, while his 2012 stand-up special You People Are All the Same was the first to have an exclusive premiere on the platform) it arrives as a predictably flat, if dependently amusing one-off Netflix movie; it’s Burr’s first as director.
OLD DADS ★★ (2/4 stars)
Rather than challenge himself, Burr instead uses the film to adapt his schtick into a three-hander bro comedy addressing the generational divide regarding modern mores and language. Bobby Cannavale and Bokeem Woodbine, who play his best friends and fellow co-founders of a throwback jersey company that has recently been acquired, are allowed about one punchline each to every three of Burr’s.
It’s a rudimentary set-up, but one that should more than satisfy Burr’s not insubstantial following, who will no doubt recognize his bits sprinkled throughout the screenplay, co-written by Burr with documentarian Ben Tishler.
Here comes the aggrieved daycare mom who claims that the C-word is every bit as oppressive to women as the N-word is to African Americans, which conveniently spurs a Burr riposte about systemic racism. And there go the pronoun jokes, courtesy of a Ha-Ha Hut ready riff on Caitlyn Jenner that the guys let rip while in a rental car. (The bit later gets the trio fired when it is secretly recorded by Aspen, one of their new millennial overlords played by a bleached blonde Miles Robbins.)
Like a stack of silver dollar pancakes at IHOP, Bad Dads is more a collection of episodic situations — one at a school fundraiser, the next at a desert casino — rather than a traditional movie. It’s a structure that reinforces the feeling that you are watching a sitcom that has been fused together rather than a movie.
That is more than a little disappointing given the considerable skill that Burr shows as an actor, both here and in past stints as the fireman courting Pete Davidson’s mom in The King of Staten Island and as mercenary Migs Mayfeld on The Mandalorian. As an actor, Burr is adroit, emotionally grounded and instinctively responsive to the choices of his fellow performers. (He more than holds his own against his more seasoned co-stars, Cannavale and Woodbine). Why he hasn’t put his considerable skill to greater use in dramatic films remains a mystery.
Perhaps he prefers to remain in situations where he is familiar and in control, such as his long running podcast, the stand-up stage, and tepidly amusing comedic features like this one. But as someone who has built his career by pressing the limits of people’s comfort zones, one desperately wishes he were willing to do the same for himself.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.