It can be a great idea to return to a tried-and-true formula. If a film does well, think about making a sequel. If a pair of actors work well together, pair them up again. This brings me to “Murder Mystery,” Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston’s latest film. The two had previously starred in 2011’s “Just Go With It.” I’d like to think “Murder Mystery” was intended to be a glorious return to form.
Unfortunately, while the film had potential, it wasn’t great.
Sandler and Aniston star as Nick and Audrey Spitz, a couple celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary. She’s a hairdresser who loves mystery novels, and he’s a police officer who keeps failing his detective’s exam. Their marriage is your stereotypical middle-aged couple. He’s been promising her a honeymoon for 15 years — seriously, she’s been waiting 15 years. For their 15th anniversary, he decides against the $100 Amazon card and goes for the $50 instead. A real keeper, right?
In order to pacify an angry Audrey, Nick “surprises” her with an anniversary trip to Europe. On the plane, as Nick snores, Audrey sneaks into the first-class bar and meets Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), who invites the couple to a weekend on his family’s yacht. His ex-fiancee, Suzi (Shioli Kutsuna), has married his billionaire uncle, Malcolm (Terence Stamp), and they’re hosting a celebration. Unfortunately for Uncle Malcolm, he’s killed during the party, leaving everyone a suspect, including Nick and Audrey.
As the film progresses, the body count keeps climbing. It’s a bit like a cross between “Clue” and the Agatha Christie classic, “And Then There Were None.” Everyone is a suspect, from the actress (Gemma Arterton) to the colonel (John Kani) to the gay son who was nothing but a disappointment (David Walliams).
“Murder Mystery” is meant to be a whodunit. While I’ll admit I was trying to figure out the case, I was also trying to figure out who thought this film was a good idea. I also told my boyfriend more than once how I didn’t want to end up like Nick and Audrey. I suppose it’s an old gag that is meant to score a lot of laughs: the long-married husband and wife who don’t understand each other and aren’t really trying anymore.
Nick is constantly shown as the callous husband who belittles his wife and thinks sex on a boat is a good plan because he can just “lay there and let it do all the work.” And then there’s Audrey. She’s an overzealous hairdresser, who loves her novels and is convinced they can solve the murders. Unfortunately, Nick doesn’t really care people are dead and just keeps stealing food because he’s always hungry.
Oh, and Audrey prefers Claritin to Allegra. That “joke” is made over and over, and I think the Allegra people should be irritated at how many times characters say Allegra doesn’t work. I’m a Claritin girl, too, but I’m not sure a medication preference should be given enough oomph to be considered a minor plot line.
The prescription plot point gets to one of my biggest issues with this one. It’s a comedy, but it’s not really funny. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s not much of a mystery. (I solved it at least 45 minutes before our main characters.) It’s not a send-up of murder mysteries, either. It makes a couple of digs at the formula and waves some character’s fascination with mysteries and mystery novels in our faces. That’s about it, though. It’s a really lazy script, and one of the only interesting parts is the relationship between Audrey and Nick. By interesting, I mean “train wreck.”
Sandler’s movies have had their fair share of female objectification, misogyny and rampant representation of emotional and verbal abuse. Somehow it’s acceptable to belittle your partner and downplay their abilities, humor, intellect and many other parts of their personhood in favor of their physical attributes. It’s never been OK, but audiences have overlooked many of the darker parts of his fratboy, man-child shtick because it’s billed as comedy. The routine isn’t aging well for the 52-year-old, and it’s becoming more creepy with each successive film.
Sandler could have gotten away with a lot of the things he does in “Murder Mystery” at the start of his career. However, it’s incredibly upsetting to see how he doesn’t appreciate Audrey, who is not only beautiful but capable and intelligent. She is the one who brings the bad guys to justice and cracks the case. (Seriously, Nick is an awful detective.) And, that might be the basis for a good movie if a) Audrey discovers she is not defined by being a hairdresser and housewife, and Nick develops a deeper appreciation for her, b) this wasn’t 2019, and that idea hadn’t been done hundreds of times in both film, novels and TV, and c) this wasn’t 2019, and we didn’t have to have stories where we’re telling men to appreciate us and stop being jerks.
Any way you cut it, it’s depressing that the most interesting part of this movie is something that might have offered some potential as late as 35 years ago. As it stands, this is so dunderheaded that it makes me wonder if I’ve stepped into a time machine.
Bottom line: “Murder Mystery” is neither a comedy nor a mystery. It’s just bad behavior masquerading as mass entertainment.