“Murder Mystery,” a racy cardboard detective film that finds a middle-aged romance that became a mainstream hit four years ago, had the genius idea of pairing Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as Nick and Audrey Spitz, the sweet and wonderful Nova York; the couple – he was a cop trying, but failing, to be promoted to detective; she was a hairdresser – whose marriage on “autopilot” needed a dose of therapy to revive everything. They got it when they left for the European escape that Nick, a compulsive cheapskate, had been promising Audrey a few years ago. The two ended up on a yacht, at an aristocrat’s party, which turned out to be his death knell the moment he cut everyone out of his will.
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“Murder Mystery 2”, and “Murder Mystery” before it, is an enjoyable careless gimmick. The first film was an Agatha Christie ripoff, a sort of “Murder on the Idiot Express” with the two married American rednecks replacing Hercule Poirot (although the film also had a symbolic Poirot figure). It was also a “Knives Out” mystery made on what felt like a tenth of the budget, with all the cartoon suspects out of the core cast. It was a small version of the “Thin Man” movies, with a pair of romantic jesters flaunting their 21st-century style; vulgarity in place of the elegance of Nick and Nora Charles Martini. And it was, at times, a vintage Adam Sandler comedy.
The same will happen with “Murder Mystery 2”. It’s only 89 minutes long and, for a while, feels like even more entertainment that doesn’t show any more excellent Wiffle-ball qualities. Nick and Audrey have launched their own private detective agency, and, as the opening sequence demonstrates, they are as hopelessly inept at it as Nick is at wielding his gun.
The two are called abroad once more, this time to be present at the wedding of their old suspect-turned-friend, the Maharajah, also known as Vikram. They land on a tropical island that makes paradise seem miserable. However, Nick is as focused on the delicious slice of artisanal cheese left in his room as a housewarming gift as he is on the environment and scenery. The pre-wedding celebration feels like a Bollywood musical. Another murder of a rich person everyone hates might seem almost too stylish, so this time it’s a kidnapping. It is Vikram who is kidnapped, a crime that becomes an excuse for Nick and Audrey to go on a wild adventure through Paris, even as the body count rises and they once again become prime suspects in this case.
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You find that movies made for streaming have a certain standard aesthetic: wider and more obvious than movies made for theaters, with less creamy lighting. They have a utilitarian quality of connecting the dots eager to please. But so would you think or speak, in an age where your average theatrical success is steeped in FX feel, often at the expense of the humanity that drew people to the cinema for most of the last century? Look, I have “a piece of product!” the quality of a movie made for streaming can, in its standard way, offer bits of ancient humanity in a way that many theatrical features no longer do. That’s because streaming movies, or at least enough of them, literally can’t do anything else.
“Murder Mystery 2” is what we used to call “a TV movie,” and now a streaming movie — a stereotypical, pretty genius package with two stars who aren’t exactly about to take down Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. However, Sandler and Aniston have chemistry; they make you believe in Nick and Audrey’s marriage and the love that seeps just beneath the fight. If what Nora Ephron conceived was a clever rip-off of the rom-com, “Murder Mystery 2” is a rip-off of the rip-off, fueled by a crime plot that is a cheesy, light parody of itself played just enough to work.
Mark Strong appears as an ex-MI6 agent with a bestselling book to his name and plans to solve the crime. What could he be doing? An epic van chase, with our heroes wielding axes, and guns, turns the film into a scrappy action comedy – albeit, that’s an old and very standard genre.
The new movie has a different director, Jeremy Garelick (with a script again by James Vanderbilt), but for the most part, he’s smart enough not to get in the way of agreeing on the feuds between Sandler and Aniston. There is another sports car (a yellow-colored Lamborghini), with Audrey once again driving. There’s a climactic encounter at the Jules Verne restaurant on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, with Nick and Audrey once again making things up as they go along. On the detective scale of competence, they are somewhere between Inspector Clouseau and David Addison and Maddie Hayes in “Moonlighting”.
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The “Murder Mystery” movies aren’t great mysteries, but they don’t need to be. They are good enough. What audiences respond to in them is the interplay of Adam Sandler, as a curmudgeon but an even more heightened sense of loyalty, and Jennifer Aniston, as a boyfriend who is fed up with being life’s second banana. Their charm and chemistry come to the fore again in “Murder Mystery 2,” and you can bet they’ll be back, even if not in theaters.