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Sandler and Aniston crack the case of what to watch when you don't want to think too hard
In the summer of 2019, I wrote my own fate. "Bring on Murder Mystery 2," I cried, adding an "I see no reason not to." Why oh why did I not include the suggestion that I pick up a winning Powerball ticket, too?
The first entry in this series, which stars Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as dopey Americans solving a complicated crime in a postcard-ready environment, was far from essential cinema, but it was what most would call "agreeable" — the thing to stream when you don't want to look too hard for something to stream. According to Netflix's own reports, the movie broke viewing records upon its release. (It is now the 17th most-watched original film on the Big Red Streamer's platform, which is impressive considering not too many people talk about it.)
Netflix knows what it's doing; the sequel, bluntly titled Murder Mystery 2, will be top of the landing page when it launches, framed in a big box, just crying out, "Push play, it's riiiiiight heeeeeere."
Don't worry if the first one isn't too clear in your memory. This movie wisely opens with what's basically a "previously on" recap, and when characters reappear either Sandler or Aniston says something like, "Hey, it's this guy! How's [insert most memorable moment here] treating you?" Honestly, it's welcome. Everything about this is welcome.
So: In the time since the last movie, Nick Spitz (Sandler) has quit the NYPD and has opened a detective agency with his mystery book-loving wife (and now former hairdresser), Audrey (Aniston). She gives the appearance of being suave and he comes off like a dunce, but when you bother to scrutinize things, she can make her share of clunker moves too, and, once in a while, he can be intuitive. They make a good team! See, isn't this agreeable?
Nevertheless, their career is stumbling, and it's causing strife in their marriage. Let's not go so far as to call these two the next Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, but they are working within clearly defined guardrails in a formula that shall never die.
They get a call from the zillionaire Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar) from the last picture, inviting them to his blowout wedding party. They zip off to a gorgeous island and, right after the Bollywood-style dance number, there's a murder (!) and the Maharajah has been kidnapped (!!). Everyone, including the bride-to-be (Mélanie Laurent), her ex-roommate (Jodie Turner-Smith), the Maharajah's business partner (Enrique Arce), the bodyguard (John Kani), and the Maharajah's sister (Kuhoo Verma), is a suspect.
The Spitzes volunteer to solve the case, but after a Marx Brothers stateroom gag they end up drugged (!!!). Before you know it, Mark Strong appears as a cool British spy (let's call him a 003.5). The action then moves to Paris, where every top-level tourist destination makes an appearance. One car chase scene is, I kid you not, actually well shot and a little bit thrilling.
The Sandman gets his share of zings, but it's more of the sitcom banter variety than anything unhinged or antic. Nick Spitz is not a relative of Bobby Boucher or even Hubie Halloween. This character is more in line with the cluelessly over-confident characters Bob Hope would play. (That'll be the last of the old school Hollywood references I make, I swear, but that is clearly what this production is going for. Whether you want to call that "classic" or "creaky" is up to you.) There's a joke about flamingos wearing diapers that made me laugh, as well as a line about dinosaur leather. Also, a nice collection of French pop. (Remind me to go back and Shazam.)
I can tell you that I watched every frame of Murder Mystery 2 but I don't precisely understand what the villain's motivation was. Or, quite frankly, what they were trying to do. I also don't think director Jeremy Garelick, writer James Vanderbilt, or any of the producers (Sandler, Aniston, and 25 other names, somehow, according to the IMDb) would really care. What's more important is that I was never, ever having a bad time as the movie — under 90 minutes — played out.
There are some who would say that a movie like this — one that you don't really need to pause if you are running to the kitchen to get more snacks — shouldn't be championed, even mildly. I say that there is no shortage of cinema-as-art for the nights when you want to be mentally stimulated. You can stream these works on Criterion Channel, on Mubi, and even on Netflix from time to time. There's no shame in watching Murder Mystery 2, so long as you know what you are in for: something not exactly good but certainly not bad.
Premieres: Friday, March 31 on Netflix
Who's in it: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston
Who's behind it: Jeremy Garelick (director), James Vanderbilt (screenwriter)
For fans of: Murder mysteries, having a good time