Murder Mystery is a bland crime-comedy that features Sandler on autopilot and struggles to deliver enough thrills to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Back in 2014, when Adam Sandler was coming off critically-panned films like That's My Boy and Grown Ups 2, the comedy star signed a multi-picture deal with Netflix to star in original movies for the streaming service. This agreement led to projects like The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over, which - like Sandler's recent theatrical output - were not critical darlings, yet still found a sizable audience at home. In 2017, Sandler and Netflix extended their contract to make four more movies, and the Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit Murder Mystery marks their latest collaboration. By now, viewers should know what to expect. Murder Mystery is a bland crime-comedy that features Sandler on autopilot and struggles to deliver enough thrills to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Murder Mystery follows New York police officer Nick Spitz (Sandler) and his wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston), who are finally going on their long-delayed European honeymoon 15 years after their marriage. On the flight, Audrey meets the stylishly wealthy Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), who invites Audrey and Nick to a party on his family's yacht, where they meet a collection of colorful characters. Unfortunately, the paradise vacation takes a dark turn when Cavendish's uncle, Malcolm Quince (Terrence Stamp), is murdered right before he signs a new will. With Nick and Audrey the primary suspects, they need to work together and solve the case to prove their innocence.
As the title suggests, Murder Mystery takes cues from classic crime stories, with Murder on the Orient Express being an obvious influence. While it never hurts to draw from those works, director Kyle Newacheck and screenwriter James Vanderbilt can't pull off the execution. In the early going, Murder Mystery really drags along as the movie operates more as an excuse for Sandler to do his usual comedic schtick (relying on typically juvenile humor than clever laughs) than anything else. It is necessary for a film like this to somewhat take its time to set things up, but nothing in Murder Mystery's first act is particularly engaging. This makes it difficult for viewers to become invested in the story, so when the action picks up and there's a crime to solve, the investigation isn't very involving. Newacheck tries to throw some twists to keep people on their toes, but nothing's fleshed out enough to leave an impact.
It certainly doesn't help that the collection of characters on the yacht are largely unmemorable. Many of them are one-note caricatures (see: Adeel Akhtar as a "hip" Maharajah, Gemma Arterton as a beautiful movie star) and do not have enough screen time to stand out. In some cases, specific gags tailored to characters run thin quick and become less amusing as they wear on. Outside of the two leads, the biggest highlight in the ensemble is Evans, who lends his natural charisma and charm to Cavendish, but it would still be a stretch to call it a great performance. Dany Boon also has some moments as an inspector looking into the Quince murder, but he's a stock character as well. For the most part, people are mainly plot devices to serve as additional suspects for the murder, as the script is smart enough to give most of them a motive for wanting to kill Quince.
As for Sandler and Aniston, both are operating in their wheelhouse and don't really challenge themselves. The former does a riff on his everyman schlub role he's done many times before, while the latter is an archetypical middle-aged wife becoming tired of the usual routine. And though Sandler and Aniston have worked together before (Just Go With It), their chemistry doesn't really light up the screen, as it feels like the two are just going through the motions. One way to interpret that dynamic would be to look at it through the lens of a passionless marriage in need of a spark, though the script doesn't run with that lead and any internal conflict between Nick and Audrey is heavily manufactured and quickly resolved, diminishing any personal stakes or drama. Longtime fans of the two actors may enjoy what they're bringing to the table, but cinephiles know both are capable of much more.
There was potential here for Murder Mystery to be an entertaining spin on the Agatha Christie formula, but the end result is extremely mediocre. Everything from the performances to the technical filmmaking comes across as highly standard, meaning this isn't an absolute train wreck like some of Sandler's past films, but it's hard to recommend to people who weren't already onboard with the Sandler/Netflix pairing. And, in all honesty, the streaming platform is the best choice for a movie like this. Outside of his voice over work in the animated Hotel Transylvania series, the box office numbers showed there wasn't much interest in Sandler's work via traditional release. So perhaps Murder Mystery will have a similar fate to the actor's other Netflix films and find success as it's released straight into living rooms.
Murder Mystery is now streaming on Netflix. It runs 97 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence/bloody images, crude sexual content, and language.
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