It might never rise above the level of middling, but a game cast helps to keep this new caper afloat.
At this stage in their respective careers, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston are about as likable and well-cast in the new Netflix action-comedy Murder Mystery as they’re ever going to be. The film makes much better use of their pairing than 2011’s Just Go With It, anyway, and is a vast improvement over Sandler’s truly execrable output as part of his eight-movie deal with the streaming giant. Anyone who, like me, thought Sandy Wexler was a work of horrifying evil, should feel a little relieved by Murder Mystery, a springy and enjoyable-enough little caper that is better suited to the small screen than it would have been to the multiplex, where just a few years ago it would have inevitably been marketed as a frothy summer blockbuster.
But times have changed, and now there’s a better outlet for this kind of low-effort box-ticking filmmaking that dumps a recognizable, game cast into a played-out genre setup and just lets things unravel from there. By Netflix’s dubious standards, a discount Game Night is a pretty safe bet, and James Vanderbilt’s screenplay is careful to hit all the expected beats and to speed along at such a clip in the meantime that nobody bothers to notice whenever things turn out to not be as clever as they think they are.
Sandler plays Nick, a cop, and Aniston his romantic hairdresser wife Audrey, both of whom find themselves in Europe on their fifteenth anniversary for an overdue honeymoon. Before long they’re aboard the yacht of billionaire Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp), and find themselves the prime suspects for his murder in an investigation conducted by a local French inspector (Dany Boon) and involving various Clue-style suspects played — mostly with relish — by folks like Luke Evans, David Walliams, Gemma Arterton, and Luis Gerardo Méndez.
Murder Mystery is propelled almost entirely by its knowing, almost self-aware casting, content as it is to let someone like Evans saunter around as a raconteur playboy and just have that idea in itself do all the work. The material isn’t challenging, but that’s the point; the whole film has that kind of laidback vibe that’s just smart and zippy enough to be consistently engaging without overexerting itself or asking too much of its cast or audience. Sandler has had a career-long habit of casting himself opposite implausibly attractive women, but here his supposed marriage to Aniston feels genuine; it’s the best either of them has been for ages, at least in more mainstream comedic fare.
There aren’t any surprises here, unless you count the film’s overall effectiveness, but the way Murder Mystery is able to both adhere to and poke fun at the whodunnit structure — Audrey is a pop mystery obsessive who spots all the cliches as they arrive — means it never really succumbs to those tropey pitfalls in the way a more earnest film might. It’s nothing special and nothing new, but judged against the modest standards it sets for itself, Murder Mystery is about as good as it needed to be, and better than most people would have thought.