Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
We’ve covered a number of remakes throughout this project but none has felt like an egregious ripoffs in the same way as Murder Mystery. It certainly doesn’t help the film’s case that it shares a large plot development with Rian Johnson’s whodunit masterstroke Knives Out, which came out mere months later in the same year. But even setting aside that comparison, the film is essentially a mash-up of 2010’s Date Night and an international version of 1985’s Clue (not to mention the incalculable references to Agatha Christie). And while the film ends up as a semi-enjoyable romp with a likable cast, it’s hard to shake those guilty feelings throughout.
Using an action-intrigue thriller as a way of exploring a couple’s relationship woes is nothing new in cinema, and this forms the backdrop for Murder Mystery, where Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston play a middle-aged married couple that has been going through the motions for years. Aniston guilts him into a European vacation, where she meets a billionaire’s peculiar nephew (Luke Evans), who invites them to his uncle’s luxurious yacht. Once aboard, they meet a cast of eccentric characters and weirdos, including those played by Gemma Arterton, David Walliams, John Kani, Adeel Akhtar and Shiori Kutsuna, who either become lifelessly alive suspects or lifelessly dead bodies.
It’s here where Netflix’s hand is most visible as steering the ship that is Murder Mystery, as it’s almost guaranteed that the film, were made any earlier in Sandler’s career, would have a cast populated with Sandler’s friends and collaborators. Not even Nick Swardson could stowaway on this glorified vacation. And as we’ve seen increasingly throughout Happy Madison’s Netflix era, Murder Mystery prioritizes its story, with all its twists and turns, over cheap jokes. Yes, there are extravagant set pieces, but those are to be expected with any Euro-centric action film.
Where the film goes wrong, though, is in its utterly forgettable script and its execution. A cast that gels this nicely together, with stars like Sandler and Aniston (reuniting after Just Go With It), should be able to rise above the generic material that is the final product. Even though I wouldn’t recommend either Sandler or Aniston’s performances, I don’t think either actor sinks low enough to be checked out of the film, in the way that actors from previous Happy Madison vacation films have done. The film wants us to invest in their relationship and their journey to regain their romantic spark, but the script never puts in much effort to flesh out their troubles beyond the generic staleness and the lack of effort that generally comes with long-term relationships.
2019 was an all-time great year for movies and one of my personal favorites, where I gained additional experience in film and film history. Of course, even great years will have forgettable duds to go along with its highlights. 2019 provides an even greater conundrum for Sandler in particular, in that he appeared in this film and Uncut Gems, which arguably contains his best, most magnetic performance to date. It’s not unheard of for an actor to be in great and terrible films in the same year, but the chasm between the two for Sandler couldn’t be wider.
Maybe it’s an accident that Sandler ultimately stumbled into this film; John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) was originally attached to direct, with Charlize Theron as the star (hence her name in the end credits as a producer) before they both dropped out. While it’s harder to envision this film with Theron in the lead role, it is easier to see the formidable actress putting her own personal stamp on the material. Instead, the film just limps along from set piece to set piece with hardly any energy generated between them and nothing memorable to hold onto in the long run. It’s already been announced that a sequel will be coming, with Sandler and Aniston reprising their roles and embarking on new (presumably foreign-set) adventures. While I don’t plan to be the first in line to catch up on their shenanigans, a sequel to this film is much more palatable than many of the other Happy Madison franchises that Sandler could have explored.
Upon its release Netflix claimed, as per usual, that Murder Mystery set a record for the number of viewings in its opening weekend. Still unclear, though, is how many of those viewers actually remember doing so.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: As previously stated, there isn’t a single Sandler crony to be found in Murder Mystery. Allen Covert reportedly appears as part of the bus tourists, but the film never focuses on him in the way previous HM films have. Erik Griffin, whom I always enjoyed on Workaholics (and where he worked with director Kyle Newacheck), comes closest to a true cameo, and it’s a shame he’s not in the film more.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: Jennifer Aniston learns how to drive a stick shift … in a Ferrari … through the streets of Italy … on the opposite side of the car.
- Fart Joke Counter: None??? Honestly, my eyes had glossed over throughout most of this, so I may have missed one. But I don’t believe there were any. I refuse to go back and check though.
- The Walkout Test: Easy pass.
- NEXT TIME: The Wrong Missy presents the right opportunity for one final roundtable discussion with Mitch Ringenberg.