Adam Sandler has become a 1-in-6 hit wonder. The actor turned producer has been a busy man, but blame the film economy, bad decision-making or a dry spell, he’s developed a reputation for delivering half-baked comedies. His one weapon is nostalgia with fans constantly hoping he’ll return to form… recalling The Wedding Singer, Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Happy Gilmore and Hotel Transylvania. His brand of lowbrow schlock has always been a turn-off to critics with more appeasing audiences reveling in the lightweight, feel good escapism. Unfortunately, on the back of one rotten film after another, he’s at an all-time low.
This is why Murder Mystery had to happen, representing an upswing. The actor recently returned to stand up with Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh, which almost hit the seemingly ironic title signaling a comeback for the star. After an okay outing with Jennifer Aniston in Just Go with It, which is excellent advice for this movie, the pairing are at it again in this lightweight crime comedy caper. This time playing a New York cop and a hairdresser, the two once again go on a long-awaited vacation. Expecting a breezy European holiday to spruce up their marriage, an unexpected invitation finds them on the run and framed for murder.
Directed by Kyle Newacheck, who recently shifted from TV to “TV movies” with Game Over, Man… the film is aiming for a big budget look but feels constrained. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston are trying to get onboard, but it just lacks spark and seems comfortable with good enough. It’s not a spoof of murder mysteries, but rather a tribute borrowing the primary concept at the core of Clue, where a gathering of strangers leads to a murder. Based on the classic board game, Clue known as Cluedo to South Africans, it amounts to a campy, fun romp in the tradition of a dark comedy caper. Whodunnits are naturally compelling and filled with intrigue. When you spice things up with comedy, it becomes entertaining nonsense, which is the case with Murder Mystery.
“Can I just say, I loved you in Indecent Instinct…”
It also takes a page from films like Date Night and The Out-of-Towners, centring on an ordinary couple in an unlikely predicament and wildly out of their depth. Lightly amusing, moving from billionaire yachts to French villages, the film has a holiday feeling as the bumbling cop and hairdresser find themselves on the run from authorities. Interacting with a diverse range of quirky characters, they open the floor to the star-studded supporting cast including: Gemma Arteron, David Walliams, John Kani, Dany Boon and Luke Evans. While there aren’t any stand out performances, possibly owing to the film’s dedication to medium shots, the cast do manage to tune into the tongue-in-cheek spirit.
Murder Mystery is aiming for mainstream appeal, sidestepping the base and crude for a more balanced comedy, probably loosely modeled on Clue. It’s refreshing to see a Sandler comedy without defaulting to the typical fraternity style sense of humour. It’s also interesting to see a strong South African connection with Kani in a supporting role and Charlize Theron signed on as executive producer. Murder Mystery is essentially a star-studded, fun-filled yet lightweight comedy crime caper with plenty of twists-and-turns. It’s far from sophisticated and just good enough to tip the balance in its favour.
The bottom line: Amusing