There are as many boring takes on Adam Sandler as there are stars in the sky. A punching bag for lazy critical types, you’ve heard all the complaints about perceived lack of effort, juvenile humor, and using cinema as a vacation excuse before. Now look, I’m not going to sit here and try to defend THAT’S MY BOY, THE COBBLER, or GROWN UPS 2 to you on a metric of traditional merits (although if you find me at a party, I might try my best), but I’m going to give it to you straight: Adam Sandler hasn’t made a bad movie in almost three years. SANDY WEXLER is a wholesome piece of self-reflexivity that received an unfairly tepid reception, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES is upper-tier Baumbach, and THE WEEK OF is a perfectly pleasant comedy with several fistfuls of heart. As such, it is my pleasure to report that MURDER MYSTERY is another strong foot forward for the Sand Brand’s tectonic shift into polite mainstream acceptance, an effortlessly solid action-comedy that aims right down the middle of the plate and, if not quite knocking it out of the park, at least places a runner on second.
If you couldn’t guess it, MURDER MYSTERY is… a murder mystery. Police officer Nick Spitz (Sandler) is a typical Sand Schlub who doesn’t appreciate his loving and suspiciously attractive wife, in this case Audrey (Jennifer Aniston). After accidentally announcing that they’re finally going on the European vacation Audrey’s always dreamed of, Nick finds himself over his head and wallet on a transcontinental flight. On the way over, Audrey befriends the wealthy and smoldering Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), who invites the couple to accompany him on the yacht of his uncle, Malcolm (Terence Stamp). Though clearly not the biggest fan of the idea and Audrey’s bedroom eyes towards Charles, Nick goes along with it, only for the couple to learn that Malcolm has organized the yacht trip as a way to inform the assembled assortment of family and “friends” that he’s completely cut them out of his will. When the lights go out and Malcolm is killed, it’s up to Nick and Audrey to find the killer before Inspector Delacroix (Dany Boon) brings them in as the most likely suspects.
I wish I could wear every pattern on display here simultaneously
First and foremost… Adam Sandler really deserves commendation for his ability to commander a straight-laced action comedy here. The physicality is obviously not quite as demanding as something from the John Wick set, but for a middle-aged man generally known for his dumpy characters stuck in arrested development, Sandler is as suave, sharp, and self-assured as his mustache over the course of the film. While the jokes that were clearly written for him are hit-or-miss, and there are certain running gags that speak of the largely tone-deaf and dead-on-arrival lowpoints of the middle stage of his career (the one where he continually insists that Malcolm’s guest Colonel Ulenga (John Kani) is missing his penis doesn’t make much sense and didn’t garner any chuckles), when Sandler’s allowed a little room to breathe, he continually nails it, the segment where he discovers the bar in the first-class cabin of the airplane an obvious highlight, featuring some of the freshest barbs and quips he’s managed to land in at least a decade. Showcasing a mastery of comedic timing many are too close-minded to appreciate, MURDER MYSTERY lands a laugh-out-loud moment making use of its star more than it doesn’t, and that’s something to appreciate from the man who once used “WHAAAZZZUUUPPP” as the pinnacle of humorous effort in a film.
Now admittedly, some cracks begin to show in the facade of the supporting cast. Almost everyone gets at least one solid joke or quip in apart from Malcolm’s son, Tobias (David Williams), but some peak early, such as Adeel Akhtar’s overblown Maharajah Vikram Govindan and the bizarre, sub-Ali G gangster posturing he decides to employ, and others are more used at the expense of a joke, not given a chance to get in a zinger in their own right (the aforementioned Colonel Ulenga). The funniest one by a moonlight mile ends up being a race car driver in Malcolm’s employ, Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Mendez), and while the premise of the joke of him not understanding a word of English is a bit of low-hanging fruit when first introduced, the script continues to build upon it every time he appears, leading to a few gut-busting lines and scenarios. In addition, comedic antics aside, Boon’s turn as a slimy and chain-smoking French detective is a good bit of genre fun, and Luke Evans, while a bit disappointingly stiff, at least stands out as one of the few characters who features some element of moral ambiguity and complexity, not a general archetype for Sandler to bounce off of.
Mfw this is the least cancel-able Adam Sandler vehicle yet
But as far as bouncing off of goes, I have no idea what some critical types are on about when it comes to a perceived lack of chemistry between Sandler and Aniston! These two are clearly really close friends both on-screen and off, entirely and regularly able to carry out rapid-fire banter and chummy jabs, and any continued ill-will is likely just carried over from 2011’s JUST GO WITH IT. Sure, the standard husband-wife dynamic of virtually every Happy Madison film hearkens back a bit to your standard early aughts sitcom fare, but as far as a continually exasperated spouse goes, Aniston crushes it, and scenes such as the final car chase show that any complaints come from those firmly dedicated to looking for them. My one note was that the film rather bizarrely has her wear the same pair of shoes for the entirety of the runtime, but even this is lampooned as we approach the finale. Aniston’s able to hold and maintain her own energy against one of Hollywood’s most aggrandized personalities, and she deserves some commendation.
All of this is to say that MURDER MYSTERY certainly isn’t even perfect, and to be quite honest, is probably lowercase-g “good” at best, but the critical reception at large is abysmally misguided. The completely unremarked-upon fact that the script itself is a rather subtle and clever satire of paperback genre novels aside, it really seems like the nasty bias against Netflix as a platform and medium is one of the more striking marks against this film’s reputation. Yes, Adam Sandler has made bad films. In fact, several of them. But to be so resolutely poisoned against a man who has time and time again shown that he has more to offer than the critical consensus is willing to give him credit for is, quite frankly, a bad look. Our dear film editor and I were idiots and spent 100 minutes in traffic to drive from the Valley to Downtown LA to see a Netflix movie in a theater, but you know what? That damn theater was filled to the gills, and raucous communal enjoyment was had for the entirety of the economical runtime. MURDER MYSTERY is a fun time at the movies or at home and the current culmination of the Sand Man’s tortoise-before-the-hare approach to uniform competence and appreciation, and I feel sorry for those unwilling to let themselves see that.