James C. Clay // Film Critic
Let’s not ever pretend the critics will be kind to Adam Sandler’s movies. The past five or so years, the actor took his Happy Madison empire to Netflix, where he has found apparent success and a new audience.
Despite Sandler’s terrible critical track record, there are some caveats. He made BILLY MADISON, which, of course, is the greatest comedy of all time. And his work with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach and the upcoming Safdie Brothers films are worthy of note. Sandler is a instantly likable guy that’s relatable with his casual attire and laid back attitude, so he’s approachable and attracts a massive four-quadrant audience, which has allowed him to be successful on Netflix.
His latest outing, MURDER MYSTERY, takes a more grounded but high concept approach, and it’s undoubtedly the funniest film he has made since 2002’s MR. DEEDS. Co-starring Jennifer Aniston and directed by Kyle Newachek (who made the funniest Netflix film to date with GAME OVER, MAN!), this film starts off strong with a marital dynamic that’s snarky and provides several laugh-out-loud one-liners for Sandler, and reactionary moments for Aniston. As the film plot develops and the story takes shape, the jokes start to lose their precision, which could be the result of mediocre improv or the script (surprisingly written by ZODIAC’s James Vanderbilt).
Audrey and Nick Spitz (Aniston and Sandler) are a couple who are approaching their 15th wedding anniversary. Nick is a beat cop in New York City, while Audrey is a hair-dresser. So, for all intents and purposes, they are fairly average. Nick has been slacking in the marriage and opts for an Amazon gift card for a present, but Audrey has been longing for the trip to Europe he promised her back when they first wed. After a small confrontation one night, and the power of movie magic, the Spitzs are on a plane to Europe.
The set up for this film keeps the landing fairly often. It was fascinating to see Sandler adjust his humor to a younger-skewing audience even though the film is geared more towards adults. The couple encounter billionaire Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) on a plane. Audrey gets a bit flirty with him while Nick is more enamored that there is a bar on the plane. Cavendish invites the couple on his lavish yacht to join him and his family, they accept, there’s a murder, they become the prime suspects, and BOOM you have yourself a movie.
When the film embraces its looser approach, it finds the most success. And as the plot develops, the film beings to suffer. One can’t help but think that the stars of this film were looking to replicate the success of last year’s comedy GAME NIGHT. There are certain parallels from the cinematography to the overall tone of the film.
MURDER MYSTERY finds most of its success when the two stars are interacting with one another. It’s easy to see that Aniston and Sandler have a friendship that translates to the screen. We aren’t looking for depth with a Sandler vehicle, but there needs to be enough gas to take it across the finish line. MURDER MYSTERY has its moments, yet can’t keep itself from getting lost on the autobahn.
Sandler has a lifetime pass for likability, which is why he has been able to build a movie empire based off his casual screen presence. MURDER MYSTERY is a middle of the road comedy that rushes through its final act in hopes of clocking in under 90 minutes. There’s certainly an audience for this film; they just aren’t Agatha Christie fans.