Where to start with this review? Well, how about this: the movie does not begin on a dark and stormy night – but that’s one of the very few mystery-story cliches it does not tackle in its surprisingly short, swiftly-paced runtime. And I mean, one of the very few: this is a movie that comes packed with all the requisite elements of a classic mystery; from the suave British host to the alluring city-streets of Monaco, illegitimate children of English nobility, enigmatic French detectives and lethal Indian daggers. Every overdone trope gets its moment of melodrama in the spotlight – before it is inevitably wrestled to the ground by hilarious, heartfelt satire.
But no, our story begins in New York City, with our protagonists: lazy NYPD detective Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and inquisitive, bookish hairdresser Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston). The couple are bored and tired in their middle-class American lives, until their wedding anniversary, when Nick agrees to take his wife on a long-awaited European vacation – a honeymoon fifteen years in the making. On the plane, they run into the aforementioned suave British gentleman, Charles Cavendish; elegantly portrayed by Luke Evans, Cavendish is immediately suspect even before Audrey openly states that, with a name like his, he would be the bad guy in a mystery story. Nevertheless, he politely invites Mr. and Mrs. Spitz to be his guests on a private yacht rather than have to spend their honeymoon traveling on a crowded tour bus learning about aged Italian ham.
Naturally, the mystery begins there.
The usual suspects are all present. Aside from Charles, we are presented with prospective-heir-to-a-magnificent-fortune Tobias Quince (David Walliams), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Suzi Nakamura (Shioli Kutsuna), the Maharajah Vikram Govindan (Adeel Akhtar), grizzled war hero Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), the celebrity race-car driver Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Méndez), and the silent Russian bodyguard known as Sergei (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), plus the film’s most lavish star aside from the three leads, Gemma Arterton, playing…well, the film’s most lavish star, actress Grace Ballard. The actors all get a chance to take themselves far too seriously, as their caricature characters clash (try saying that one three times fast) in a desperate attempt to win the love – and magnificent fortune – of the elderly, steely-eyed tycoon Malcolm Quince. Terence Stamp gives a brief, but almost Christopher Lee-like performance as Mr. Quince, before he is dramatically slain with, you guessed it, the Indian dagger. The scene immediately preceding his death, in which Mr. Quince realizes that he has two unexpected (and decidedly civilian) guests in Mr. and Mrs. Spitz, is absolutely hilarious – Aniston and Sandler are brilliant in their roles, and somehow sell the premise that they are, in fact, the odd ones out on this high-end French yacht full of celebrities and moviestar personalities.
After Quince’s sudden demise, just when the film should really take off, the movie suddenly jolts in the opposite direction – or maybe “jolt” is too strong a word. Our protagonists sort of just…idle, while the plot stands still around them, allowing for a handful of genuinely funny moments, most of them provided by our French detective, Inspector de la Croix (Dany Boon). But while he can blow an impressive smoke-ring, Hercule Poirot he is not. To make matters worse, Sandler’s characters suffers with sleepiness throughout the movie, but seems to get especially lackadaisical just when things get interesting. With a little less than an hour left, the movie suddenly remembers that it is, in fact, supposed to be entertaining: like a crimson Ferrari gunned into action (that metaphor will make sense later), the story gets fun, fast. We’re treated to another death, an obligatory escape-out-the-window scene in a luxury hotel, and hysterical humor. From that point on, except for some unnecessary marital drama, Murder Mystery gleams. Most of the film’s best material is packed into the last thirty minutes.
The high-points of the movie are the performances, and the finale: Aniston, Sandler and Evans are all exceptional – Evans does grow less so as the movie progresses, and his dashing elegance is, unfortunately, never shattered with comedic precision, but his charm is enough to make up for that. Many of the smaller roles are enjoyable to watch: Akhtar’s Maharajah is delightfully cool; Arterton is blessed with a large enough role in which to show off her range; and, as previously noted, Stamp gets one delectably funny scene, which he dominates. Only Ólafsson and Méndez are forgettable in their roles.
As for the finale – well, I did not actually guess the murderer’s identity correctly. But I loved the way that, even in its closing minutes, the movie had time to turn the tables on one more mystery cliche: and it’s a good one, too. There’s an excruciatingly funny car chase as well, involving one beautiful red Ferrari – I was not expecting goats, but I got goats, and I loved them. The film’s final scene can be read as either a tease of sequels down the line, or just a loving nod to the genre; an apology, of sorts, for all the mischief and madness committed in the name of mystery.
So, is Murder Mystery worth seeing? Well, if nothing else, it will definitely have you smiling and probably laughing out loud in its best moments – it’s not brilliant, and it’s not even the most brilliant use of satire, but it is heartfelt and heartwarming. Sandler and Aniston make a great duo, and have a fun supporting cast. So if you’re an insomniac on a dark and stormy night, why not check it out?
Movie Rating: 6.5/10