Murder Mystery is actually an entertaining watch if you already love Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, a fact that Netflix is undoubtedly aware of. But between shallow character motivations, lack of substantial stakes, and a frustrating mix of opposing genres, Murder Mystery falls short of living up to its name, instead landing squarely in Aniston and Sandler’s wheelhouse of simply playing themselves.
The plot begins with Nick and Audrey Spitz (Sandler and Aniston) venturing off on a European anniversary trip together, the character of Audrey reading a murder mystery novel on the plane as they do. Sandler’s character, Nick, has his own connection to the investigative drama to come: he is a police officer who recently failed the test to become a detective, and lied to his wife about it.
The two bumble their way onto a yacht trip in the Mediterranean filled with wealthy European socialites who are the usual suspects — the self-dramatizing actress, the young trophy wife, and the relative who hopes to be in the will, among others — each with their own motives for murder. Audrey and Nick find themselves in middle of a murder in the middle of the ocean with a group of strangers. There is no need for them to be a mystery fan and a detective to become invested in this story. Although these character beats may seem harmless, in a well written mystery, every detail counts. In this one, irrelevant details pile up until the viewer stops caring. It’s tempting to stop trying to solve the mystery and just enjoy the movie as a light comedy.
Another hurdle that cannot be overlooked, no matter how much you might love watching the two lead actors, is their lack of real stakes. The obvious one is that Nick and Audrey, although at this point I might as well call them Adam and Jennifer, are the prime suspects for the European murder that they did not commit, and they must find the true murderer in order to clear their names. However, their position as murder suspects really only serves as a comedic jumping off point for them both to perform their usual, although loveable, Aniston and Sandler antics.
The crisis for the characters comes not when their arrest is imminent, but when Audrey finds out that Nick lied to her about passing his test to become a detective. This then leads to Nick telling Audrey that she has no business trying to solve the murder because she’s “a goddamn hairdresser,” a remark which prompts her to storm off and insist that he not follow her. This comment from Sandler’s character should be trivial in comparison to being murder suspects in a foreign country after their passports have been confiscated by police (an Amanda Knox level emergency), but the emotional crisis seems to refocus the stakes onto the survival of their fifteen year marriage, which is clearly never truly in jeopardy.
Ultimately, Murder Mystery spreads itself thin by trying to do too much at once: A buddy comedy, a romcom, and a satirical piece on murder mysteries, none of which are fully engaging. Despite the comedy duo powerhouse at the forefront of the film, the murder plot lacks the expected intriguing detail and sinister undertones. Writer James Vanderbilt may have been chosen for his resume of dramatic, ominous, and action packed films (Basic, Zodiac, Solace, Truth), but the murder mystery falls flat. The suspects come in and out so quickly it is difficult to differentiate them by name and backstory, much less become invested in them before they are killed off one by one. Terrence Stamp’s character, billionare Malcolm Quince, stands in a room on his luxurious yacht and states everyone’s name, their relationship to him, and a small bio of them just before the murder occurs, but it seems more like flailing expositionary dialogue rather than a satire of the genre.
Although it seems that the lack of a well written mystery could possibly be compensated for with humor, Sandler is not surrounded by his usual gang of comedians picking up the slack. Without them, all the comedy must come from the script, which is lacking in this regard. There are a few fun moments, for instance, when Aniston uses her hairdresser’s knowledge to expose a lie (echoing the courtroom climax of Legally Blonde). Nevertheless, these satisfying character moments are few and far between, and clearly rest on the charm of the actor.
Sandler’s films have rarely been critically acclaimed (with his Netflix project The Ridiculous 6 achieving a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes). Nonetheless, the billions of box office dollars spent on his movies in the theaters have now converted into streams on Netflix. This film will likely be no different. Murder Mystery is lighthearted and exactly what you’d expect from the two stars.
Audiences continue to love Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, despite any number of weak scripts or bad reviews. If you are already a fan and your expectations are simple, Murder Mystery is a fine, if flawed, ninety minutes of entertainment.
Murder Mystery is as serviceable, predictable, and inventive as its name. However, Aniston and Sandler fans will enjoy the lighthearted ride.