The combination of Adam Sandler and Netflix could have been comedy gold. The limitless streamer could allow him to design new creative paths for his comedic work that has been adored by fans for decades. Yet, a majority of his work with the streaming giant has fallen flat and made audiences question why they spent so much to keep him in the fold. Enter, Murder Mystery. Over 30 Million accounts worldwide watched this film in its 3 day opening weekend on Netflix.
Murder Mystery is the story of a NYPD cop and his hairdresser wife who take an anniversary trip to Europe which turns into a whodunit caper. Quickly, the first murder occurs as a wealthy old man is murdered just before he signs his fortune over to his new, young wife, instead of his mooching family and friends. The killer starts picking off the group as we narrow on who is killing for the money.
One of the best assets of this film is Jennifer Aniston. Her skills in grounded comedy makes her a great fit to Sandler’s often more over-the-top style. But, don’t think there isn’t plenty of shtick. Aniston’s Audrey and Sandler’s Nick act as wide-eyed tourists to the world of the one percent. With an audience knowing full-well that Aniston and Sandler are no stranger to the elite world of Hollywood, their gawking feels like part of the joke.
Audrey’s love of murder mystery novels allows her to be the best person to figure out the murders giving her an intelligence and skill set in this wacky story. The side story of Nick’s consistent lie to his wife about being a detective when he really didn’t pass the test three times makes a believable marital conflict for the film. The real-life friendship between Sandler and Aniston allows the 15-year marriage to feel real and comfortable.
This is Aniston’s second time in a Sandler film, who originally wanted Charlize Theron in the role of Audrey. (Theron stayed on as a producer.) Their first film was Just Go With It, from 2011, has a worse Rotten Tomatoes score, at 19%, than Murder Mystery which currently sits with a 45%. So, it seems that these two have gotten better with age.
Why So Rotten?
I don’t think it is. Critics have long challenged Sandler’s style with an overly academic approach to his comedy. Sitting more comfortably in broad, approachable humor, his work is often lost on reviewers that wish him to be closer to John Stewart or John Oliver. High brow, isn’t his thing, although he does fill dramatic roles occasionally and is praised for it. Murder Mystery doesn’t strive to be a thought-provoking comedy, so judging as if it was and missed the mark is silly. You can appreciate this film at face value, which is where it delivers. On the surface, this film is fun, light, and quirky. The grounded Aniston and Sandler-isms provide expected, but still engaging performances that keep this film level surrounded by exaggerated archetypal characters. In fairness, some Netflix/Sandler films are close to unwatchable, but this is far from them.
A major feature of this film is the landscape. Many films made on a small(er) budget struggle with scope and high production value. This film was smartly made on-location in Italy and other European highlights. There is a look one can only achieve when on-location. The Italian skyline is very specific and challenging to replicate on a sound stage or back lot. This film used places like Lake Como (Lake Clooney?) as a backdrop creating realism and atmosphere often missing from a lot of Netflix comedies. The majority of Netflix rom-coms have a narrowed focus on a New York (or generic city) backdrop which feel disconnected from their story. The locations in this film are not only pretty to look at, but are very much part of the story and tone of the film.
Murder Mystery is a good choice if you are looking for a fun and light comedy. The story provides enough complexity to keep it moving while the cast strikes the right notes. If you want to watch something on Saturday night with leaving the house, this is just the ticket. Sit back, relax and enjoy the trip to Italy.
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