The Collin-Denton Spotlighter is taking a look at some of the top movies to hit popular streaming services in recent days. We’ll be reviewing those movies not only by traditional standards, but by how well they hold up as quality streaming options for a comfy night in with a bowl of microwave popcorn.
Netflix released The Pez Outlaw, a sugar rush of a documentary, on their streaming service on January 19. Read on to see if the feature is a sweet or sour way to spend just under an hour and a half of your evening.
The Spotlight Review
Despite the Sergio Leone by way of Count Chocula name, The Pez Outlaw is so much more than just a faux melodramatic title adorning an empty calorie documentary.
As another entry in a true crime genre that should hopefully be fast approaching its expiration date, it could’ve easily faded into the background along with the mind-numbing mixture of dating app mysteries, crypto scams and legitimately distasteful crime documentaries flooding streaming services in recent months and years.
Instead, the documentary relies on perhaps its greatest asset to differentiate itself from the pack: Pez itself.
Pez doesn’t have an inherent dark side. There are no vicious crimes committed here. Steve Glew’s recounting of his own early 90s exploits to import European Pez dispensers against the corporate wishes of Pez USA, ran by a man nicknamed The Pezident, is usually about as sinister as it sounds.
On top of that, Pez doesn’t really have much culture relevance to trade on. No matter how humorous the thought may be, it doesn’t seem likely that Pez dispensers become a trending topic on Twitter anytime soon.
Directors Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel seem to know all of this. They take The Pez Outlaw to the margins where other documentaries fear to tread and let it pave its own path to sweet victory.
For a documentary, The Pez Outlaw often doesn’t bother itself with the finer details. It largely brushes past the specifics of trademark law or customs smuggling, essentially the two biggest criminal areas in question, instead being content with only giving the basics needed for the story.
Speaking of that story, The Pez Outlaw isn’t even really worried about crafting a balanced, entirely accurate retelling either. It tells its tale mostly through Glew, using his voice and even his own acting to run through a number of often hilariously dramatic recreations. What other input there is mostly comes from family members, a selection of big-spending Pez collectors and a former Pez marketing manager.
If those sound like criticisms, they’re not meant to be. This is a documentary about Pez after all. It should be light, fun viewing that doesn’t require an ample amount of brainpower. There are more than enough documentaries out there willing to provide you with what The Pez Outlaw doesn’t.
What those documentaries don’t have, however, is Glew’s simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt storytelling. In his story, he’s the character you want to cheer for, and The Pez Outlaw is more than happy to follow along.
It leads to immensely enjoyable moments like Glew learning about European Pez manufacturers in a film noir recreation of a toy convention or a variety of interludes to an angry Pezident swearing vengeance on his apparent “arch-nemesis.”
As the web around Glew’s actions becomes increasingly tangled, the movie works just enough to give viewers the kind of surprises and twists worth watching for as well. The documentary knows where its bread is butter, or Pez dispensed I suppose, and leans into some very entertaining and comical reveals along its runtime.
When The Pez Outlaw does decide to take a serious turn too, it does so for good reason. The movie largely handles Glew’s own personal struggles with Obsessive-compulsive and Bipolar disorder well, not lingering on them for too long nor ignoring them completely.
His relationships with his wife and children oftentimes form a sort of emotional nucleus for the story too. They help ground The Pez Outlaw in reality and give heart to what may otherwise be too ridiculous of a documentary.
There’s a legitimate sweet side to The Pez Outlaw himself that helps keep the documentary on track in some of its biggest moments. When you take those moments in stride with the nature of Glew’s actions surrounding them, namely distributing foreign Pez dispensers to the outrage of corporate executives, it makes the documentary’s skewed POV a bit easier to understand.
The end product is thus an easy-to-watch, occasionally touching and often immensely fun documentary. Simply put, the streaming world needs more documentaries like The Pez Outlaw, and I feel like I need to buy a Pez dispenser.
Spotlight Score: 9/10
Skip or Stream
The Pez Outlaw is incredibly easy to recommend at just 87 minutes. The restraint it shows at being an easily digestible one-part documentary, nothing more, is extremely commendable in today’s age.
It would’ve been so easy to make whole episodes out of the corporate structure of Pez and the company’s allegedly sour relationship with collectors or the perils and pitfalls of trademark law and customs smuggling.
Instead, The Pez Outlaw is perfect just the way it is, cramming big documentary attitude into a bite-sized package. On top of that, it gives you all the incentive you need to hunt down a tasty and fun treat prior to watching too. That’s just an extra bonus if you ask me.
The Pez Outlaw is a pop of flavor in an increasingly vanilla genre. It’s fun, absurd, heartfelt and one of the better ways to spend 87 minutes on Netflix in 2023.