- Murder Mystery
- Directed by: Kyle Newacheck
- Written by: James Vanderbilt
- Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Luke Evans
- Classification: PG; 94 minutes
Adam Sandler is the smartest person in Hollywood. I said so two years ago – when the actor re-upped his deal with Netflix to finance, produce and exclusively distribute a new slate of films – and I’ll say it again today. The Sandman is a genius. Even if he is responsible for some of the dumbest comedies of the past several years.
Consider his Netflix output so far. There was 2016′s The Ridiculous 6, whose title at least acknowledged its submental intentions; that same year’s The Do-Over, which also came with a name that tipped its hat to its audience’s surely regretful life choices; and 2017′s Sandy Wexler, a self-indulgent slog that thought it could substitute cameos for humour. Only last year’s The Week Of, co-written and directed by Sandler’s most reliable collaborator Robert Smigel, came close to the level of, say, the genuine sweetness of The Wedding Singer or the considerable laugh tally of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, both near-masterpieces. And that’s a fact that I will fight you over with my bare fists.
But making aggressively stupid movies for Netflix is probably the smartest thing that Sandler can do, as the streaming giant has proven time and again that it will pay for name-brands over quality. And with Sandler’s big-screen clout long on the wane – the man who’s delivered 13 films that have grossed more than $100-million at the box office hasn’t had a real theatrical hit since 2013′s Grown-Ups 2 – it only makes sense to stick with the small screen, where he can churn out lower-than-low-brow films and still be filthy rich. (For those ready to quibble: I’m not counting the actor’s turn in Netflix’s excellent The Meyerowitz Stories, a Noah Baumbach film that doesn’t fall under Sandler’s Happy Madison production company.)
In that vein, Murder Mystery is the ultimate Adam Sandler Netflix movie. The new movie is dumb, pointless and completely bereft of laughs. It wastes a talented cast and all of your time. Worst of all, though, it is unconscionably lazy, starting with its generic title (again, who is naming these things?) and ending with its shrug-of-the-shoulders climax.
For those absolutely dying to know, the plot focuses on New York cop Nick (Sandler) and his long-suffering wife, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston), who get roped into a murder investigation after befriending wealthy playboy Charles (Luke Evans) while on a European vacation. There are a few moments where it seems like the script aims for the surreal and enjoyably goofy heights of, say, last year’s Game Night – but those hopes are immediately dashed by the film’s constant reliance on go-nowhere gags and a general sense of effortless ambivalence.
The camerawork is generic, the jokes constantly deflated by lifeless delivery, and the performances alternating between annoyed and bored. Aniston, who returns for more Sandler-sparked punishment after starring with the actor in 2011′s dreadful Just Go With It, appears to have a split-second moment of enthusiasm when Audrey first meets Charles, but it’s quickly extinguished once she remembers what she’s signed on for. A film focusing on a murder and featuring a roster of quirky European villains should have sparked Sandler to go a bit outre, and embrace the surreality of Billy Madison or Zohan. Yet Murder Mystery is distressingly dull, a comedy forever in search of a joke.
The end result is all the more frustrating considering that Sandler knows he’s capable of so much more – even on Netflix. His recent concert special for the streaming service, Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh, is a great reminder of his live-act skills, and he’s set to star in the promising crime comedy Uncut Gems later this year, courtesy of the wildly talented directors Josh and Bennie Safdie. Yet his primary focus seems to be on such disposable, legacy-destroying nothingness as Murder Mystery.
Adam Sandler is a genius, sure. But I'd love it if he were to smarten up, too.
Murder Mystery begins streaming June 14 on Netflix.
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