“Murder Mystery,” Adam Sandler’s latest action comedy, definitely isn’t the most disastrous work to come out of the comedian’s recent partnership with Netflix, but it’s almost definitely one of his laziest. Certain jokes and running gags come and pass with little to no development or reason to exist, and by the end, the film almost feels like Sandler’s celebration that he keeps getting away with them. It’s not a horrible film, but not many scenes, shots or lines of dialogue happen that feel like any second thought was given at all.
One of the movie’s biggest problems is that the “Murder Mystery” doesn’t actually start until 35 minutes into it. The majority of the film’s first act is a rote regurgitation of some of Sandler’s most classic beats. He plays Nick Spitz, an NYPD sergeant who just failed his detective exam for the third time. This makes him feel like a loser, but what he should really be embarrassed by is the way he treats his wife. He’s not abusive or anything, but he’s the type of husband who buys Allegra instead of Claritin because the former is 50 cents cheaper, even though he knows it doesn’t work for his wife, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston).
Fifteen years ago when Nick and Audrey got married, he promised her a romantic getaway honeymoon to Europe. Now, as their anniversary approaches, she’s getting fed up with Nick’s complete lack of romanticism. Nick pretends like he was going to surprise her with the vacation, and off they go. On the plane, they meet Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), a rich playboy who offers the couple a spot on his family’s yacht for the weekend at the Grand Prix in Monaco.
The family’s wealthy patriarch, Malcolm (Terence Stamp), has revealed he asked his family and its closest friends to his yacht to tell them he was kicking them out of his will and instead leaving his fortune to his new 23-year-old wife. The lights go out, and when they come back on, Malcolm is dead.
What ensues is a pretty by-the-book riff on the “Murder on the Orient Express,” whodunnit formula. James Vanderbilt’s script does a good job not showing its hand; it’s not obvious who the killer is from the beginning, but that also might be because the Spitzes - and the movie - are just kind of making it up as they go along.
Performance-wise, Evans, Stamp and Gemma Arterton stand out for their generally limited screen time. Only one character, the maharajah, played by Adeel Akhtar, is insufferable; he talks like what boomers think millennials talk like, even though Sandler and his troupe should know by 2019 that’s not really a valid punchline anymore.
The film ends with some ham-fisted moments between the husband and wife that come off as significantly more forced than genuine. We don’t necessarily tune into a zany Sandler flick for its emotional intelligence, but when the movie isn’t as funny as its potential calls for, it needs something else to elevate it. “Murder Mystery,” unfortunately, did not get that courtesy, and while we’ve seen Sandler’s capability to make worse films, this one feels like he didn’t even try.
Streaming now on Netflix