‘Murder Mystery 2’ Is Adam Sandler on Cruise Control
At this point in his career, after almost 30 years of cranking out hits and a recent Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Adam Sandler makes two kinds of movies. He can fully commit himself to projects of originality and depth, including Hustle, one of the few truly great basketball films on record, and Uncut Gems, an anxiety-fueled, character-based thriller quite funny in its own way. And then he can return to his bread and butter: throwaway comedies that play like the star mostly just wanted to have a good time with his friends. The Murder Mystery movies, the second of which is new to Netflix, falls firmly in the second camp. It’s the kind of thing Sandler could do in his sleep.
The setup of Murder Mystery 2 is about the same as that of the first installment, which seems to be part of the gag. Married Nick and Audrey Spitz (Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, now private investigators) travel to exotic locales, where they witness a mounting body count and become primary suspects in several murders. Wacky hijinks ensue, most of which allow Sandler to fire off quips like he’s shooting jumpers in an empty gym. These are movies for those who find the Knives Out franchise too sophisticated and droll, red meat for the Sandler faithful. It’s a movie of small ambitions tailor-made for the small screen. It is exactly what you think it is.
What’s it about? It’s about 90 minutes, and it could scarcely go on a second longer. Nick and Audrey, at each other’s throats as usual, receive an invite from the hip-hop-patois-spouting Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar, working really hard). He’s getting married on a tropical island to a lovely French woman (Mélanie Laurent), and has spared no expense, giving Sandler and Aniston ample opportunity to riff on luxury items, fancy cheeses, VIP treatment, etc. Soon the Maharaj is kidnapped, the first of many people are murdered, and the line of suspects forms to the left. They include holdovers from the last movie, including Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), and a slew of newcomers, including Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), Maharajah’s former fiancé; Maharajah’s sister, Saira (Kuhoo Verma, so good in the reproductive rights comedy Plan B); and retired soccer star Francisco (Enrique Arce), whose cla im to humor is aggressively hitting on Audrey ad nauseum. Mark Strong is a hostage negotiator who – wait for it – may not be who he seems. At a certain point they all jet off to Paris, because, you know, Paris is a cool movie location. Eiffel Tower and all that.
For all of its simplicity, Murder Mystery 2 employs an interesting cultural calculus. Nick and Audrey are the archetypal idiots abroad, feckless tourists rampaging their way through international settings without a clue. But the joke is often on The Other. The Maharaj: Look, the Indian guy thinks he’s a rapper! The Countess: Look, the African woman is so haughty! Inspector Delacroix (Dany Boon, returning for another round): Look, the Frenchman is so… French! In these movies the characters are generally defined by their most reductive traits. To be fair, that goes for the Americans as well. Nick is the self-deprecating wiseass. Audrey is the bored, fed-up wife. The idea of a moribund marriage spiced up by action movie antics, including what appears to be a pricey helicopter crash, is hardly new; True Lies practically wrote the manual. But if there’s one task Sandler has mastered it’s going back to a well.
The Murder Mystery movies aren’t really clever enough to be considered a genre send-up. They’re more like thin collections of jokes on a theme. The scripts seem to make themselves up as they go; the direction seems bored, as if ready to move on to the next thing. As Murder Mystery 2 flops toward the finish line, you might look at your watch and gasp at the realization that several minutes still remain (and then perhaps sigh in relief at the realization that some of those minutes will be consumed by the standard, epic Netflix international credit sequence). These movies have trouble ending. Time for a few more jokes? Maybe another murder? Sure, why not?
Look, critics have been teeing off on Sandler for decades. At this point, however, it’s largely because we’ve seen that he is capable of so much more. Sandler is a massive talent with a bottomless appetite for low-hanging fruit. Enough people share the taste to create a demand for the product and ensure it keeps coming. Murder Mystery 3 can’t be far behind.
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