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With the American box office stuck in a rut following Avengers: Endgame’s seemingly endless worldwide reign, Netflix is hoping to cash into all the subscribers choosing to stay at home than visit the multiplex with Kyle Newacheck’s directed comedy thriller, ‘Murder Mystery’.
The film released June 14th as part of star Adam Sandlar’s eight-picture deal with Netflix and while it isn’t on the level of his spectacular stand-up special, it is definitely a step towards the right direction for the Grown Ups actor. The film stars Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as a middle-aged couple whose vacation takes a surprising turn when they are invited to a billionaire’s yacht.
There, they find themselves embroiled in an old fashioned murder mystery. The film invokes the classic Agatha Christie-esque mysteries (with many Easter Eggs for Christie fans to delight themselves with) and does so quite successfully, however, it’s the film’s own riff on clue, and comedy that needs some serious help.
Despite a host of talented actors, the film’s screenplay by Vanderbilt is mediocre enough to turn what could have been an entertaining ride into a middling comedy which seems perfect to be seen on a streaming platform rather than on the big screen. The film takes its time in setting up a rather simple story and is neither able to produce three-dimensional characters nor provide any comic relief.
Still, the movie sets up the chessboard perfectly giving all our suspects enough motive and opportunity to be plausible. There’s Luke Evan’s charming Charles Cavendish whose fiancé Suzi (Shiori Kutsuna) has just dumped him for his wealthier uncle, Malcolm Quince (Terrence Stamp), and many of Quince’s guest aboard his ship where he has gathered his friends and family to discuss the will.
The motley crew 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), the always dependable Adeel Akhtar as a silly Mahraja; a colonel who once saved Quince’s life (John Kani), and the colonel’s massive bodyguard (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson).
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And amidst all of them are the two seemingly random passengers, Nick and Audrey (Jennifer Anitson) that end up witnessing the murder. Despite the talented cast it is Sandler and especially Aniston who do most of the heavy lifting in the table setting first half of the film, before the film manages to engross us into the mystery.
At this point, Sandler’s career is defined by more lows (the lowest undoubtedly being 2012’s That’s My Boy) than highs and although this film isn’t his big game-changing role, it does suggest that Sandler is being more selective about what he appears in. The film isn’t shy about showing off the gorgeous Italian scenery, and parts of what makes the film so watchable are its picturesque vistas.
The Italian backdrop is yet another way in which the Netflix comedy seeks to invoke the spirit of Agatha Christie novels, with the Dame’s novels often being set on exotic travels. The murder mystery itself is interesting enough to keep you glued to the screen despite the comedic shortcomings but nonetheless, the movie considerably improves as the film progresses and bodies start piling up in classic Christie fashion.
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I suspect how much one enjoys this film will depend on how interested one is in the mystery element given that there are but only a few short chuckle-inducing jokes in the entirety of its run. And although the cast altogether is likeable, the fact that most of the faces are undoubtedly unknown to the audiences does serve to dampen the movie’s appeal, especially considering how star-studded Christie’s adaptations have always been.
The film’s willingness to play it safe and not be satirical of the very genre, it seems to be tackling head-on, proves to be an uninspired decision, leaving the film in an awkward position of not being a great mystery or a decent comedy.
Had Murder Mystery used classic mystery and comedy tropes to push the envelope a little, we might have ended up with a product that would’ve been more memorable. As it stands, the Kyle Newacheck comedy is neither inherently bad or good and unlikely to be remembered past this year, lost in the endless shuffle of far better Netflix films.