The streaming wars have begun.
As Netflix continues to arm itself with original content to keep up in the battle between streaming services, it has become clear that its comedy film vertical is a major priority for the service. Movies like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Kissing Booth” have revitalized interest in the romantic comedy genre, while Adam Sandler has garnered something of a second lease on his career with a stream of prolific, if generally poorly received, original movies. Some of his recent ventures have included “The Do-Over” (Rotten Tomatoes, 10%) and The Ridiculous Six (0%).
“Murder Mystery” is the next in the saga. With a reported 30-plus million viewership numbers, it’s quite a hit for the service (if, of course, these numbers are not fabricated, as some have alleged, and there’s no real way to verify that). My only question is: Why?
Even with stars Sandler and Jennifer Aniston at the helm, the movie is the definition of mediocre.
They star as a middle-class couple with marital tensions in need of a getaway. Sandler, a struggling police officer, purchases last-minute tickets to Europe in an attempt to appease his wife. After Aniston's character meets a charming aristocrat on their flight, the couple is swept up in an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery where they must prove their innocence.
Although the story literally deals with life, death and criminal allegations, nothing ever truly feels high stakes. It’s all very lightweight, and much of the script is annoyingly lazy. Even the dialogue between the main characters sometimes flows awkwardly, as if they shot each scene and accepted the first take without watching it back.
While the concept of a modern-day version (or parody, even) of something like “Clue” is indeed intriguing, nothing in the film feels adequately urgent to do that idea justice. The plot isn’t intriguing enough to satisfy as a genuine mystery, and yet it’s not funny enough to properly satirize the genre.
Sandler and Aniston are generally charming, and it’s fun to watch them interact with each other in some truly beautiful European locations, but neither seem completely invested in a project that reeks continually of a paycheck gig.
The large cast of characters, which comprise our suspect list, are all too bland to be intriguing. The exception there is probably Luke Evans, portraying the viscount Charles Cavendish, who makes Aniston’s acquaintance at the onset of the film. Evans remains an impressive actor and once again showcases his range and comedic abilities.
Admittedly, the story is entertaining enough to keep it on throughout its entire 97-minute runtime, which probably contributes to its astronomical ratings. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if this served more as have-it-on-in-the-background fare for many rather than a glued-to-the-screen movie night event.
The story romps along at a mildly entertaining pace, and the ending has some clever twists, but once again, it is several notches below impressive. When the credits finally start rolling, all of it has kind of run together, and most will probably forget it by the next time they log in to Netflix.
It’s not surprising this movie ended up on a streaming service rather than the silver screen.
It’s the type of film that rarely sees the light of day anymore at the multiplex. Let’s face it– mid-budget, rush job comedies haven’t been a hot ticket at the movie theater for at least a decade now. The competition for content-creators is too fierce for studios to rest on their laurels with stories that don’t feel like a ticket-worthy necessity.
That’s the power of Netflix, though. When they release something for free and market it as a valid replacement for a trip to the movies, people listen.
Still, it’s a shame that for what’s being labelled as one of the hottest streaming films, this is the level of quality we’re getting. It may just be a comedy, but in truth, we all (30 million of us, apparently) deserved better.
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Traveler Score: C