The murder mystery genre is one that hasn’t really developed much beyond its core structure and concept. Films in the genre tend to follow a formula that works, but at this point they rarely deliver anything more than just good. The recent Murder on the Orient Express (2017) was good but still formulaic.
Netflix’s Murder Mystery aims to be a breath of fresh air by presenting a murder mystery that starts off quite formulaic but does its best to try and spin the genre into something new as it progresses. It follows an American couple (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston) who travel to Europe and end up being framed for the murder of a billionaire (Terence Stamp). As they go on the run they are determined to get to the bottom of who actually conducted the murder.
Murder Mystery kicks off in the way you’d expect a murder mystery to kick off; after some setup there’s a murder and the investigation begins. This story indicates that it’s going to be setting up a progression of events, similar to Clue (1985), where the majority of the film will take place in one confined location. However, it switches things up and takes the mystery out into the world where it blends a murder mystery with action indicative of an espionage cat and mouse thriller. This is a very fresh approach, one that I didn’t see coming and actually made for a new experience which I commend the film for.
Saying that the murder mystery genre is very formulaic isn’t necessarily saying that it’s bad. So, the fact that this film switches things up by not going in a straightforward one-location direction isn’t the defining reason this story works. I still feel that the film would have worked had it stayed confined to the yacht, as the mystery element is strong and intriguing enough to hold the film. But the fact that it does venture out of that space gives it an additional spark to set itself aside from the rest.
Regardless though, it’s an engaging story and mystery that had my attention the whole way through. It’s still nothing amazing but it’s enough to where you don’t get bored of it. It may start to become a little wonky in the execution of the final moments but it comes to a close before it can completely lose it.
Being an Adam Sandler driven comedy it could go a number of ways from being dreadful and unfunny to surprisingly very amusing. Murder Mystery sits somewhere in the middle, and it’s due to a couple of factors. Reason one being the presence of Jennifer Aniston who lights up the screen whenever she’s on. She comes to this with a positive attitude and really is a natural when it comes to delivering comedy. She nails the majority of the comedy through more subtle one-liners which catch you off guard. The second reason is that, for most of the film, Adam Sandler isn’t playing one of his exaggerated characters riddled with dumb humour. He’s a lot more subdued in this film and as a result you aren’t taken out of it by dumb jokes that are unfunny to everyone aside from kids. He has his moments where he slips back into that but they pass pretty quickly.
The two of them, who are close friends in real life, share a great deal of chemistry that radiates off the screen and makes it a worthwhile watch. Outside of the leads, there are some fine performances but nothing that sticks. Gemma Arterton and Luke Evans are two that stand out, both with some fine moments, but no other member of the supporting cast offers more than a couple of light jokes. It’s a shame but not a massive burden with Aniston and Sandler in the limelight.
As much as it features an interesting mystery and an entertaining lead pair, it’s still held back from being great by its flaws. The last act gets a little too hyperactive for its own good. The things it does with upping the pace, moving around from location to location, and hiding some twists is good however it becomes a bit too much in the end. It stumbles with executing the climax in an impactful way, it’s not dreadful, just doesn’t have the big wow-factor you’d hope from the conclusion of a murder mystery.
That being said, it’s a good watch when it comes to picking something from Netflix. Not all of the humour hits and there aren’t any memorable jokes to take away, but it’s consistent and a very easy watch. The duo of Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston is one that has worked in the past (Just Go with It, 2011), works here, and would be great to see more of in the future.