In news, non-illustrated, Review

Sometimes, even low-hanging fruit can still manage to be tasty, if not the pick of the tree. Thus it is with MURDER MYSTERY 2, the new Netflix sequel to the surprise smash MURDER MYSTERY comedy/thriller that premiered in 2019 starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. This outing, premiering today on the streamer, is lush with its exotic locations and expensive sets, and quite silly with its lowbrow humor. Its parody of the whodunnit genre isn’t a game-changer, but it’s just clever enough to play as amusing for its swift 89-minute runtime. Thankfully, there’s an extra layer of fun to it as Sandler and Aniston, playing amateur sleuths, all but break the fourth to comment on the myriad of tropes and twists happening in the story. It’s not quite Nick and Nora Charles, but at least they’re trying for a regular Joe and Jane version of them.

Sandler and Aniston return as Nick and Audrey Spitz, the New York City cop and hairdresser tourists from the first go-round, buoyed by their solving of the murders in the first story to now try their hands at being private detectives. Nick and Nora, er, Audrey, aren’t particularly adept at their jobs, bleeding cash and clients, as well as bickering more than sleuthing. Their marriage seems on the precipice when they are offered a tony distraction the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), their wealthy friend from the first film. He calls to invite them to his extravagant Indian wedding and the Spitz’s are off to bask in his wealth and rekindle their romance.

Upon their arrival overseas, the Spitz’s revel in the lavish suite they’re given, complete with a plethora of expensive gifts including new cellphones, a full wardrobe for the weekend, and a spread of goodies to nosh on. (Nick falls in love with a block of exotic cheese.) Then during the wedding reception, the Maharajah is kidnapped, and the Spitz’s are left with a party room full of potential suspects. They include his French fiancée Claudette (Mélanie Laurent), his do-gooder sister Saira (Kuhoo Verma), snippy ex-girlfriend Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), Sekou’s BFF Imani (Zurin Villanueva), flirtatious business partner Francisco (Enrique Arce), and stoic bodyguard Colonel Ulenga (John Kani, also returning from the first film.)

Of course, this being a comedy, the Spitz’s get fingered as the prime suspects due to their financial needs, daft social skills, and tendency to check a number of ugly American boxes.  (Audrey gets caught dumping food into a potted plant at the reception.) It doesn’t help that the chief finger-pointer is an arrogant professional detective, played by Mark Strong, hired to get the Maharajah back safe and sound. The beleaguered New Yorkers’ angle gives the story a lot of its kick as the couple quickly goes on the lam to avoid arrest and find the real culprits. Chaos ensues, and the Spitz’s cause all kinds of damage to Paris along the way, even leading to numerous deaths of the suspects in their midst.

It’s all a lot of silliness that goes down pretty easily, buoyed by expert production values and costuming surrounding the gonzo set pieces. Sandler and Aniston have a lot of chemistry and infuse their carping on each other with a breezy, throwaway spirit, never pushing any lines too hard. The same can’t be said of the physical comedy that sometimes is so broad it rivals the over-the-top style seen in kid shows on the Disney Channel. And despite the cast clearly being game for such shenanigans, the characters they’re playing are quite cliché: the stuffed shirt, the evil ex, etc.

Strong comes off best, delivering his putdowns with a snide British sting, but the talented Laurent is given almost nothing to play. And despite some very clever bits in the script by James Vanderbilt, there isn’t the wit that Rian Johnson brings to similar material. Jeremy Garelick’s direction is rarely exceptional, but at least he moves the actors through their paces quickly and economically. (Garelick could stand to watch some films of the late, great Blake Edwards to understand the art of comedic choreography better, but that’s a hope for another day.)

In Sandler’s dramatic onscreen roles, such as his award-winning turn in UNCUT GEMS, he’s demonstrated a penchant for risk-taking. I wish he’d take more of them in his comedy. Too much of it feels modest, even reigned in these days. Even the title here feels overly safe, even bland.  Low-hanging fruit is fine, but Sandler is eminently capable of pushing his comedic work to something edgier or more sophisticated. I got a kick out of MURDER MYSTERY 2 but I want more from this year’s Mark Twain Award recipient and I know he’s got it in him to do a genuinely killer comedy.

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