Sometimes you just want some easy viewing; something that doesn’t challenge you, that doesn’t make you think, that doesn’t make you leave the house. Sometimes Netflix signs a multi-picture contract with Adam Sandler. Sometimes you just don’t know who to blame for your own bad decisions anymore.
Murder Mystery is possibly the most honestly named film since Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory; apparently over a century of filmmaking and we still can’t figure out clever titles. Yes. It is about a murder mystery. If you thought this generic name was due to the film stepping back and satirising the entire genre through a modern perspective, you’d have to really re-evaluate the definition of the word satire.
It’s times like these that I really wish I didn’t choose to analyse themes in my reviews. It’s an Adam Sandler film. What themes are there, other than, “Adam Sandler wanted a paid holiday so, hey, we’re doing a film in Europe”? Well, look, if you squint, there are some themes. They are muddled and dropped half the time, but someone making this film seemed to really want to satire the genre. Whether it was the writer of The Amazing Spiderman or the director of Game Over, Man! or hell, the boom operator from Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, someone involved in the project definitely read the blurb of an Agatha Christie novel and had the ending to Murder on the Orient Express spoilt for them, but never understood the genre completely. There are several funny observations about the tropes, and the set-up of the story has great potential for some satire, but never quite hits the mark.
Like I said, the set-up is good. A cop who has failed the detective’s exam multiple times, gets wrapped up in an over-the-top, generic murder mystery, with his wife who likes detective novels. It’s a good idea. When these schlubby characters are compared to a Poirot story, it is genuinely quite funny. I truly liked the murder scene itself, as our two leads, dressed in a polo shirt and a summer dress, stand awkwardly in a beautiful yacht pool room, as Terrance Stamp dramatically monologues, before suddenly being stabbed. Sandler’s character acts like a real cop, instead of some fancy detective; he calls Interpol and lets the police handle it. The couple get wrapped up in the mystery themselves, when they become the prime suspects. Good idea. It almost says something. And then it’s just a generic murder mystery...that says nothing.
Then there's the awkward secondary climax: after the reveal of the killer, they realise a second killer is amongst them, which leads them into a high-speed chase. The discovery of the first killer was set up well and the deduction came from the pre-established character traits of our two sleuths, but the car chase has nothing to do with the two leads at all. They just get in a Ferrari and chase the other car. Neither character had previously mentioned their personal love or skill for driving, but the villain can drive cars fast, so now they can too.
When the only real technical reference to the genre your spoofing is the font of your end credits sequence, you’re being lazy. There are so many classic murder mystery films that have clear and established film grammar that could be so easily mimicked or mocked, but instead it looks like an Adam Sandler film, which, to be fair, it is. The cinematography is there. It’s not special, but it’s not bad. It’s just there. There is a library sequence where it seems like they are putting a bit of creative effort in, and the end car chase had a few interesting choices, but otherwise it is purely serviceable. The sound and music never stood out to me as bad, so that can be said about it. I would argue that the most brilliant technical effort is in the acting by Adam Sandler; it turns out that if you write a character that is not putting in any effort and doesn’t look like he wants to be there, Adam Sandler can pull it off and I legitimately believe him.
I don’t hate Sandler. I haven’t liked a film of his since You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but other than Jack and Jill, I haven’t hated one either. I breathed out from my nose in mild amusement a couple of times in this, but I never felt like the big jokes really landed. There’s a big premature ejaculation gag that I was bored of by the time it happened, but boy, did they bring it back up in the end to remind us all. The murder mystery mentioned in the title isn’t even as fun as a Poirot story, but it’s not like it’s bad (other than the awful secondary climax). The killer itself is a funny enough play on the “butler did it” trope, but not enough to warrant an entire movie. Of all the Adam Sandler Netflix films to come out, this has been the one I’ve enjoyed the most, but that’s not really saying much. It’s probably because it’s a very quick film. It only drags at one point, but it’s over quickly, so it’s not all bad.
I wouldn’t advise you watch it, but I wouldn’t say don’t. If you think you’ll like it, you probably will. I will judge you for it, but at least you’re not watching reality television. The best I can say for it, is that it sure is on Netflix.