Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
The premise: To celebrate their 15th anniversary, New York detective Nick (Adam Sandler) and his wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) head to Europe. On the plane, they meet a mysterious and handsome stranger, Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), and accept an invitation to stay on Charles’s family’s yacht for the weekend, where a group of his relatives and friends have gathered. But soon, someone turns up dead — and Nick and Audrey decide to take it upon themselves to figure out whodunit.
What it’s about: Murder Mystery is part of Adam Sandler’s ongoing lucrative partnership with Netflix, which thus far has produced mostly rough and forgettable comedies (what do you remember about 2015’s The Ridiculous 6, or 2017’s Sandy Wexler?). So the bar is fairly low for Murder Mystery.
Happily, the film clears that low bar with some room to spare. Murder Mystery, oddly enough, has a screenplay penned by James Vanderbilt, best known for writing Zodiac. It’s a self-conscious (and at times explicit) homage to Agatha Christie’s mysteries, which probably helps explains Sandler’s mustache, though he’s no Hercule Poirot. The yacht party attendees include not just Audrey, Nick, and Charles but a bevy of familiar types for a mystery like this: the family patriarch and his much younger fiancée (who may or may not have her eyes on his wealth); the socialite; the spurned son; the foreign dignitary; the world-class athlete who seems to not speak English; the stolid bodyguard; and so on and so forth.
But Murder Mystery is also a comedy about romance and marriage, and about a couple who’s seeking adventure, trying to recapture a spark that hasn’t gone out but is certainly dimmer than it used to be. There’s been a bevy of these comedies released in the past decade or so, some of them better than this one (2018’s Game Night springs to mind, or 2010’s Date Night). It starts out very clunky, with a scene that feels ripped straight from a rom-com made decades ago, as women complain about their husbands and the general helplessness of men while sitting in a hair salon. And though it gets a little more limpid once Sandler and Aniston start sharing the screen, it’s still formulaic.
But it’s helped along by the comic pairing of the two leads, whose sensibilities seem to balance one another well. (The pair are longtime friends and last teamed up for the 2011 film Just Go With It.) Aniston’s pitch-perfect timing and Sandler’s schlubby bull-in-a-china-shop schtick make them a convincingly loving couple and an energetic comedic pair as they romp a bit haplessly around Europe.
Murder Mystery does feel like a very specific sort of direct-to-Netflix offering, designed to ape other movies you’ve already seen and enjoyed without straying too far from the formula or doing anything particularly innovative. But it does so cleverly enough to make watching it a pleasure; it’s just the kind of movie to pop on one night when you’re looking for something fun, silly, and a little mysterious.
Critical reception: Murder Mystery has a score of 40 on Metacritic. In his review at the Guardian, Benjamin Lee writes that the film is “a surprisingly nimble summer comedy that finds both Aniston and Sandler at their most charming.”
Where to watch: Murder Mystery is streaming on Netflix.