There may be a low bar, but Adam Sandler‘s latest Netflix movie Murder Mystery is probably his best streaming release yet* thanks to the help of an old friend — Jennifer Aniston. Sandler and Aniston previously co-starred in Just Go With It, and while the screen may be smaller this time around, they still have solid chemistry together.
Murder Mystery finds the duo playing blue-collar couple Nick and Audrey Spitz — he’s a cop, she’s a hairdresser — who only seem to travel for funerals, and have never taken the European vacation they’ve always talked about… until now. To celebrate their anniversary, they embark on a globetrotting adventure, albeit one on a budget. However, on the plane they meet the dashing first-class passenger Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), who promptly invites them to join him in Cartagena, Colombia on a luxury cruise ship, where his wealthy uncle, Malcolm Quince (Terrence Stamp), has gathered his friends and family to discuss his will. The motley crue includes the magnate’s girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna); his son (David Walliams); a movie star (Gemma Arterton); a Formula 1 race car driver (Luis Gerardo Mendez) who speaks limited English; a funky Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar); a one-handed colonel (John Kani), and the colonel’s massive bodyguard (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). Audrey is immediately enthralled by Cavendish, while Nick is left starstruck by Arterton’s glamorous Grace Ballard. Director Kyle Newacheck (Game Over, Man!) and writer James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) actually do a good job of setting up the pieces on this floating chessboard, establishing everyone’s relationship to Quince and their reason for being on the ship.
Of course, it’s not long before the lights go out and the rich old man is killed, prompting finger-pointing that leads in the direction of suspicious new guests Nick and Audrey — who as Americans, make the perfect patsies. Engrossed in a mystery novel throughout the trip, Audrey is full of theories and eager to play amateur detective, while Nick is content to continue enjoying the delicious shrimp onboard. Apparently, not even a murder can make him lose his appetite. As a cop who’s out of his element with no jurisdiction, he’s kind of like Beverly Hills Cop‘s Axel Foley, if Axel’s back hurt and he wasn’t cool.
In the blink of an eye, another body turns up, replete with a typed confession/suicide note. At this point, the ship has docked in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where a local detective rounds up the guests for questioning. Once everyone is eventually allowed to leave the ship, Nick and Audrey begin discreetly interrogating the unusual suspects. Their inquiries lead to a fun expository scene with the colonel’s bodyguard that sets up the film’s first real action sequence. Be warned, this isn’t Mission: Impossible, folks. Instead of big-budget explosions, we get Sandler and Aniston navigating a precarious ledge outside their hotel, and then hiding under a bed during someone else’s romantic encounter — hardly original ideas, but these two performers manage to make them fun nevertheless.
Ah yes, fun. That thing that Nick and Audrey are supposed to be having on their dream vacation! Obviously, getting caught up in a dangerous murder mystery isn’t terribly relaxing, so naturally, there’s some trouble in paradise. The two leads become separated after a fight, only to reunite for a library shootout against a shadowy figure who’s better with blowdarts than bullets. After nearly losing their lives, they huddle up to go through the list of suspects once more before presenting their theory to the surviving guests and the authorities. As you might imagine, Nick’s job as a cop comes in handy in the final reel, though things come to a head a little early, and you realize the film has one last twist up its sleeve, leading to a Ferrari-driven ending that may be just the thing to save their marriage.
What keeps Murder Mystery fun is its relative unpredictability, since you know Sandler won’t shy away from goofy logic in the name of entertainment. Who knows, depending on your familiarity with French inheritance law, this could play like an Agatha Christie whodunit to you! The final shot is delivered with a knowing wink to the clever author — one that even sets up a sequel, however unlikely the setting.
Another reason that Murder Mystery works to the extent that it does is that there’s an underlying sweetness that pervades most Happy Madison productions, which is why Sandler’s shtick never gets old — at least to me. As a young actor fresh out of SNL, Sandler was louder and more in-your-face, but these days, he plays the put-upon everyman as well as anyone. He’s not chasing penguins or breaking golf clubs anymore. Instead, it seems like every other scene in Murder Mystery finds him complaining that he’s either tired as shit, or hungry as shit. I suspect most people will be able to relate. I could also relate to another recurring gag that involves Nick buying his wife Allegra instead of Claritin, which may not sound hilarious, but is exactly the kind of thing I could picture my Mom haranguing my Dad about. I also thought there was something rich about seeing Aniston reading tabloid reports throughout the film, since the actress is obviously no strangers to gossip herself.
If I had any real problem with Murder Mystery, it was the supporting cast, which just wasn’t up to snuff. Evans and Arterton do what is asked of them, but I found the Maharajah to be a bit obnoxious, though he was also one of the more interesting characters when compared to the widow, the race car driver, the son and the colonel — all of whom come off pretty flat on paper. The pacing also could’ve been improved, as it takes 18 minutes to get Nick and Audrey on the ship, and another 15 minutes to get to the murder, which seems a little too relaxed for a comedy that will be watched at home, where there are plenty of distractions.
I’m not suggesting that Murder Mystery matches the laugh-factor of last year’s theatrical comedy hits Game Night or Blockers, or even Netflix’s own under-the-radar gem The Package, but it’s an entertaining, wholly watchable film featuring A-list celebs doing what they do best. With Men in Black: International and yet another Shaft movie stinking up theaters this weekend, your best bet may very well be to stay in and enjoy Murder Mystery on Netflix. One thing’s for sure, Sandler and Aniston’s chemistry is way better than Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson‘s in MIB. And this is a major improvement over the likes of The Ridiculous 6 and Sandy Wexler.
*All due respect to The Do-Over, as I love R-rated Sandler, but can’t remember a thing about that movie besides the fact that it co-starred my man David Spade.