To quote the evil Noah Cross in Chinatown, “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” The same can be said of Adam Sandler, who spent years as a piñata for critics as a result of such mindless comedies as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Now he’s an acclaimed actor, his name floated by Oscar prognosticators for such superb performances as the ones he gave in Uncut Gems and Hustle. He’s even joined the ranks of such illustrious comedic talents as Richard Pryor and George Carlin in winning the Mark Twain Prize.
But Sandler’s ultimately gotta be Sandler, and that huge deal with Netflix has to be fulfilled. Hence the arrival of Murder Mystery 2, the sequel to the critically panned 2019 comedy co-starring Jennifer Aniston that became the streamer’s biggest hit that year. This film brings back the goofy, doofus Sandler that audiences can’t seem to get enough of in the sort of harmlessly mindless comic vehicle that goes very well with takeout Chinese or pizza on a Saturday night. It’s also user-friendly enough to clock in at a breezy hour-and-a-half, as opposed to the seemingly endless The Ridiculous 6 at two hours or the painful Sandy Wexler at 130 minutes.
Murder Mystery 2
The Bottom Line
Nick and Nora they ain’t.
The first film, about a New York City cop and his wife, Nick and Audrey Spitz (their name cues predictable jokes), who find themselves solving an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery while on a European vacation, was a pleasant diversion, thanks largely to the chemistry of its co-stars, longtime friends who first worked together in 2011’s Just Go with It. Sandler and Aniston have decades of comic experience between them, and they definitely know how to land a throwaway line or bit of physical shtick.
Those attributes have inexplicably been downplayed for this installment, which seems determined to outdo its predecessor not in laughs but rather action set pieces. Nobody expects to see these two performers trying to outdo Keanu Reeves’ John Wick or Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde character (Theron is one of this film’s executive producers), but here they are battling bad guys in a van careening dangerously through Parisian streets and dangling off the Eiffel Tower. As this film makes painfully clear, it’s hard to deliver one-liners while dodging bullets or running frantically.
The action sequences are competently staged (although it’s unfortunate that one taking place at the Arc de Triomphe is being seen just after the spectacular car chase battle there in John Wick: Chapter 4), but seem wholly unnecessary. For Sandler’s fans, it’s enough to see him scarfing down an entire block of cheese even while chasing down a criminal or making sardonic, self-deprecating asides that seem just casual enough to be possibly improvised.
The sequel begins with a quick recap of its predecessor before segueing into a bizarrely rushed episode involving the Spitzes launching a private detective agency that makes it seem like we missed an installment. Not long after, they find themselves invited to the wedding of the Maharaja (Adeel Akhtar), their uber-rich friend from the previous film, at his private tropical island. The other guests include his beautiful French fiancée Claudette (Mélanie Laurent); her best friend, Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), who was previously engaged to the Maharaja; the Countess’ assistant, Imani (Zurin Vallanueava); the Maharaja’s philanthropist sister, Saira (Kuhoo Verma); the randy Francisco (Enrique Arce), who hits on every woman that moves; and the Namibian Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), who, in addition to having previously lost a hand and an eye, has lost the rest of his arm since the first film.
Needless to say, nearly all of them wind up as suspects when the Maharaja gets kidnapped, with a ransom demand of $50 million. Swimming in to help solve the crime — you’ll understand when you see the film — is an ultra-macho M16 hostage negotiator (Mark Strong, sending up his Mark Strong thing) who literally wrote the detective guidebook that the Spitzes studied to launch their agency.
Eventually, the trail leads to Paris, because Sandler wanted to treat his friends and family to yet another deluxe expenses-paid vacation. There they reencounter the Clouseau-like Inspector Delacroix (Dany Boon), whose main character trait is his ability to blow perfect smoke rings. (These are the jokes, folks.)
The screenplay by James Vanderbilt — who previously demonstrated his non-comedic bona fides with such films as Zodiac, White House Down and Independence Day: Resurgence — leans heavily on strained gags and physical slapstick that mostly don’t land, unless you find such things as business cards equipped with dental floss inherently funny. The only real amusement comes from the casual asides delivered by Sandler and Aniston, the latter also providing perfectly calibrated slow-burn reactions that too often become overshadowed by the overproduced mayhem surrounding them.
Arriving on the heels of Netflix’s far superior Agatha Christie send-up Glass Onion, Murder Mystery 2 will nonetheless be another hit for the streamer. One just hopes that with the next installment, they focus a little less on the production values and a lot more on the comedy.
Production companies: Happy Madison, Echo Films, Endgame Entertainment, Vison Films, Denver & Delilah
Cast: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Mark Strong, Melanie Laurent, Jodie Turner-Smith, John Kani, Kuhoo Verma, Dany Boon, Adeel Akhtar, Enrique Arce, Zurin Villanueva
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Screenwriter: James Vanderbilt
Producers: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Tripp Vinson, James D. Stern, James Vanderbilt, A.J. Dix, Allen Covert
Executive producers: Barry Bernardi, Kevin Grady, Julie Goldstein, Lucas Smith, Beau Flynn, Charlize Theron, Beth Kono, Tim Herlihy, Kyle Newacheck
Director of photography: Bojan Bazelli
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Editors: Tom Costain, Brian Robinson
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Composer: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Casting: Laura Rosenthal, Maribeth Fox
1 hour 30 minutes