The crime? A truly boring movie. The suspects? Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in Murder Mystery.
It’s their second offence. The Netflix movie marks the pair’s first collaboration since 2011’s Just Go With It, the film that earned Sandler a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor at the Razzies, and currently holds a 19% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the new film’s premiere earlier this week, Aniston told The Hollywood Reporter that she only even considered taking on the project because of Sandler, who also produced, a truly masterful neg to James Vanderbilt, who wrote the script 14 years ago, and has watched it languish in development purgatory. Directed by Kyle Newacheck (Workaholics, Adam Devine’s House Party), Murder Mystery is basically Clue, but not really because Clue would never.
New York City cop Nick Spitz (Sandler) has been promising his wife, Audrey (Aniston), a hairdresser with a penchant for pulpy crime novels, a belated honeymoon to Europe for the last 15 years. He’s the kind of guy who cheaps out on Claritin at the pharmacy, (Allegra is a whole dollar cheaper), and buys Audrey $50 Amazon gift cards for their anniversary. But ashamed of lying her to her about a promotion to detective — he’s failed the exam three times — he declares it’s finally time.
Sleepless on the flight over, Audrey sneaks into the first class cabin, where she meets handsome British aristocrat Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans, who exudes appealingly smarmy charm even here), who invites her and Nick along for a fancy weekend with his uncle, billionaire Malcolm Quince (Terrence Staple), and a colourful array of his nearest and dearest.
Thus Nick and Audrey skip the gross tour bus and are whisked off to what seems like a luxury vacation, whose guest list includes an African dictator (John Kani), his burly bodyguard (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a movie star (Gemma Arterton, who is completely wasted in this), an Ali G-wannabe Maharaja (Adeel Akhtar), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Suzi (Shioli Kutsuna) now married to his uncle, and a suave race-car driver (Luis Gerardo Méndez). All goes well until, in an Agatha Christie-twist, Malcolm ends up dead right as he’s about to change his will. As more and more guests start dropping like flies, the police turn to the most likely suspects: the ugly Americans more concerned with the free buffet than the death of their hosts. Will Nick and Audrey find out the identity of the killer before they wind up in jail — or dead themselves?
The real mystery, however, is why Aniston and Sandler would commit their time to such a train-wreck. Every character is flat, the dialogue is laughably bad, and the killer’s identity is proven using the Elle Woods prosecution method of uncovering a crucial hair-related detail, which, how dare you.
It’s no surprise that this script was first drafted in the early aughts. This feels like a movie from another era, where finding Japanese Claritin in the back of a limo would surely be a sign that the person with a Japanese name but a firmly upper crust British accent was in on the crime. The gags about not understanding Europeans, converting euros into dollars, and bad women drivers are all incredibly stale in 2019. There are no stakes here, no real feeling of urgency. People die, Audrey and Nick theorise; they’re proven wrong, another person dies, and they theorise some more. You never feel as if there’s any actual danger, nor is the suspense competing with the killer’s abilities.
True, thrills aren’t everything. Clue wasn’t so much scary as it was a genuinely sharp slapstick comedy that happened to be about a murder. But Murder Mystery isn’t even stylishly campy, nor cleverly poking fun at a genre, which, with its glossy, chic class of aristocrats, is ripe for social commentary.
"The idea always was what if the prototypical American couple kind of crash-landed into an Agatha Christie movie, and I think they are this sort of amazing blue-collar American couple," Vanderbilt told The Hollywood Reporter. In theory, that sounds like an interesting premise. But nothing about this movie feels subversive, or fresh.
Sandler, who has repeatedly proved he can give a layered, poignant and funny performance when he wants to (see Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, also on Netflix) seems to be functioning on auto-pilot, while Aniston, also a gifted performer when given the opportunity, is playing another version of Rachel Green, if she shopped at Target instead of Bloomingdales.
By the end, this movie had robbed me of any potential curiosity about the killer’s identity, their motives or their methods. Instead, I was mostly hoping they might be kind enough to put me out of my misery.
Murder Mystery is available on Netflix now