There is an amusing movie trapped inside Murder Mystery, struggling to get out, but it’s barely alive. This thing just limps along, carried by the capable direction of Kyle Newacheck (of Workaholics and the Netflix movie starring those guys, Game Over, Man!) but weighted down by a tedious script from James Vanderbilt, packed with product placement and dick jokes and all the stuff you would come to expect from an Adam Sandler movie on Netflix. Vanderbilt’s previous writing credits include David Fincher’s Zodiac and Overlords’ favorite The Losers. How did it come to this?!
Murder Mystery centers on New York City married couple Nick (Sandler) and Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston), who have been married for 15 years but never went on a honeymoon. As the years have passed, Spitz has tried for years to pass the NYPD detective test but has failed every time, and hairstylist Audrey struggles to make rent at her salon. They need a vacation, and after another detective-test failure that he keeps to himself, Nick finally decides to fulfill his promise to Audrey that they’ll visit Europe.
On the plane there, they’re crammed into economy when Audrey decides to put down her murder-mystery novel and wander into first class, where she meets British royalty Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans, bored). He charms her with his story about a fiancée who left him at the altar for his billionaire older uncle, Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp), and when Nick finds them, Cavendish invites them onto his family yacht. Hesitant at first, when Nick and Audrey see how awful the bus tour they booked truly is, they bail on their original plans and join Charles.
On that yacht is where the movie’s titular “murder mystery” occurs, and this is simultaneously where the movie introduces its self-aware premise but thoroughly fails it. Everyone on the yacht is related to or friends with Malcolm, including Nick’s favorite actress Grace Ballard (Gemma Arterton), race-car driver Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Méndez), and Cavendish’s ex Suzi Nakamura (Shioli Kutsuna). And when Malcolm ends up dead, Nick and Audrey are implicated and wanted for questioning by Inspector de la Croix (Dany Boon) as they travel across Europe, from Monaco to Italy.
SPOILERS COMING UP, FYI, TURN AROUND IF KNOWING WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS ADAM SANDLER MOVIE WOULD BOTHER YOU
Murder Mystery gleans much of its humor from a gimmicky sort of, “Hey! We’re in a genre piece!” self-awareness, and that meta concept is enjoyable at first but thoroughly superficial. Audrey’s knowledge from mass-market paperbacks is contrasted with Nick’s years of professional experience, which means lines of dialogue like “It’s never the butler who did it,” and lo and behold, aren’t you shocked that the butler did it? What a twist! But that’s what ends up happening, with Grace Ballard being revealed as Malcolm’s long-lost daughter who kills him for her inheritance. And to get there, Nick and Audrey bicker over who knows more about this genre, and also bicker about which is better, Allegra or Claritin (this script is about 20% product placement, including extended conversations not only about those two over-the-counter medications but also Amazon, M&Ms, Apple, and more), and also complain about how poor they are.
The median income for an NYPD sergeant is $113,000 a year, and Nick is a senior police officer, and the movie has them complain constantly about how “broke” they are; at the same time, the movie also outfits Aniston’s character in Jennifer Meyer earrings that cost thousands of dollars. Charles Cavendish is supposed to be English royalty, but he’s flying first-class on a commercial airline, but he also has his own Rolls Royce and a driver; why wouldn’t he have a private plane? Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss hangs in Malcolm’s yacht, but any art fan knows this iconic image is in a museum in Vienna! Come on, we’re not savages! Every movie has inconsistencies, but Murder Mystery in particular tries to hammer home class- and wealth-based humor while being wildly varying in its understanding of those concepts.
But hey, at least that’s better than the movie’s other attempts at “jokes”! It wouldn’t be an Adam Sandler movie if the character with Indian heritage, the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), wasn’t thoroughly mocked and profoundly stereotypical—a pompous wannabe who suffers from early ejaculation. (Also note that the character isn’t given a name, just a title that viewers would recognize as being connected to Indian culture.) Arterton’s actress is so vain that she can only get sexually aroused when men compliment her lack of wrinkles. We’re supposed to laugh when Audrey says of Suzi, “she’s that kind of pretty where you don’t really know what country she’s from,” but that’s low-key racist! And the detective investigating Nick and Audrey blows perfectly circular smoke rings every time, which I guess is the most consistent thing the movie does?
Watching Murder Mystery is a slog, and I still can’t comprehend how the same dude who wrote Zodiac wrote this, and oh, did I mention this movie steals one of its final reveals from Legally Blonde? It does! So Nick and Audrey are revealing their hunch that Grace is the killer, and Grace is claiming that the suspect they injured with a head wound couldn’t have been her because she was at the salon, and then Audrey fires back with, “Why on earth would you put a hat on a freshly styled head of hair?” You know, just like when Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods realizes that Linda Cardellini is lying about taking a shower after getting a perm. THOSE ARE THE SAME NARRATIVE TWIST. In all of the many ways that Murder Mystery is exhausting, that one might be the worst. (Or is it that the film ends with Nick and Audrey boarding the Orient Express? You know, like the Agatha Christie murder-mystery novel? DID YOU GET IT?)
Murder Mystery is available on Netflix as of Friday, June 14.