Released: 14th June
Seen: 25th August
The murder mystery genre has been kind of slow lately, the last major film in the genre being the Murder on the Orient Express way back in 2017. It’s always been a pretty fascinating genre, a large scale whodunit where someone is murdered and we follow the investigation into who the killer is. Often these movies would maybe take place in one location with everyone staying put so they could figure out who the killer was without having it spread. It’s also a genre that’s ripe for parody, as films like Murder by Death or Clue have proven how the genre can be taken to create some genuinely great comedy… and then there’s Murder Mystery, the store brand version of a comedy-mystery movie with all the ingredients and none of the flavour.
Murder Mystery follows Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler), a lying cheapskate who tells his wife that he made detective and that he got a raise to afford to take them on a fancy European vacation, even though he’s still just a police officer and actually can’t afford the holiday that they’ve taken. His wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) is the put upon housewife who is obsessed with reading mystery novels and just wants to have a nice vacation with her husband. On the plane to Europe, Audrey bumps into Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), an aristocrat who is going to a family gathering on a boat and for literally no reason he invites Audrey and Nick to join him. On the boat, they meet Cavendish’s family, including the patriarch Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp) who announces to everyone there that he hates them all and has written a new will to leave everything to his new bride Suzi Nakamura (Shiori Kutsuna). Just as he goes to sign this new will in front of them all, the lights go out and when they turn back on Malcolm is lying on the floor with a dagger buried in his chest. Now the case is on to solve who murdered Malcolm… but first we have to make several detours, leave the boat, kill a bunch more people, not actually do a proper murder mystery and let Adam Sandler enjoy the vacation in Montreal that he took during filming because that’s basically why Adam Sandler makes films nowadays.
The structure of this film is kind of all over the place, everyone just freely moves around and any potential tension is gone because we don’t get to see any of the potential killers until it’s their time to die and be ruled out of the line-up. There’s no sense that “We’re trapped on a boat with a murderer”, the foundation of the genre being spoofed here because within moments of the murder everyone’s on dry land and split up. It makes the mystery itself hard to follow, though if you do manage to follow what’s going on then you’re going to be disappointed because the big reveal requires you to have information that the film doesn’t give you until they’re revealing who the killer is. It’s honestly just unfair to have a big whodunit but the audience can’t reasonably be expected to solve it.
It does help a little that some jokes in this do work. Every now and then there would be a genuine laugh out loud moment that could win the audience back before we’re going back to the old shtick of Adam Sandler yelling. When in doubt this film leans heavily on Sandler yelling or on having characters repeat what just happened in a slightly shocked voice, which never really works. Part of it could just be that this film was originally written in 2012 and it doesn’t feel like they’ve updated the script since then. Considering they had some great comedic actors like Jennifer Aniston and David Walliams in the cast you would hope that maybe they’d update the script to play to these actors’ strengths but they didn’t because no one has anything to work with.
The MVP of the entire movie is Terrence Stamp who comes in for exactly one scene, basically introduces every major character, gets a few good laughs and then dies. He’s easily the best part because he clearly is doing a classic murder mystery character and he’s so damn talented that he makes the most out of the 5 minutes of screen time that he has. Everyone else is trying, Luke Evans is really trying to sell his swarthy drunken lothario character and maybe gets a little chuckle, Adeel Akhtar commits to his Maharajah character so well that he gets a few chuckles and the rest are… fine? I mean, they don’t stand out as particularly bad but they also just don’t stand out in general. When they have a good joke (such as the scene where someone removes the knife from Malcolm’s dead body, then puts it back again) they make it work but they don’t get many of those kinds of jokes.
Murder Mystery is a cheap knockoff version of a murder mystery movie, with an unsolvable murder and average jokes. It never tries to be anything other than passable and it has moments where it just barely achieves that. It’s the kind of film that would’ve probably died at the box office, but because it’s on Netflix and it can just be put on in the background it was seen by 73 million people in the first few weeks of release. I almost want to dare those people to list their top 10 jokes from the movie because I don’t think they could get there. It’s just barely watchable, it never tries for more than that even though it could’ve been something special.