Murder Mystery

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston play a long-married couple who suddenly find themselves in the midst of a mystery in the Netflix film "Murder Mystery."

I know what you’re thinking: New film with Adam Sandler? Woof!

Sandler does not have the same track record he had in the 1990s and early 2000s, but he’s not dead in the water, either. He recently produced a fantastic stand-up special on Netflix. He killed it as a host of Saturday Night Live earlier this year. And his latest Netflix film, Murder Mystery, is not something to flat out toss in the chum bucket. Actually, the first 20 minutes of the movie are some of his best work.

We’re not in a Sandler-aissance just yet, but he’s at least putting the ball in play.

Murder Mystery is a silly movie about a couple who find themselves swept up in a real-life game of Clue. That’s it, for the most part. The story itself is nothing special at all. However, what elevates it is the chemistry between Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. They both starred in the surprisingly decent 2011 comedy Just Go With It, and reteam here to crack more jokes and capture the reality of being a couple who has been together for a long time.

In the film’s first half hour, I was cracking up harder than I can remember from a Sandler movie. It’s as if he finally wanted to put some effort into it and prove to critics he’s capable of so much more. And he is — watch Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People or the Hotel Transylvania films.

Murder Mystery

A stranger (Luke Evans, left) embroils a married couple (Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston) in a murder mystery in Netflix’s aptly titled “Murder Mystery.”

He’s a great actor. He just tends to settle for the cheap laughs to make a quick buck. But in the opening act of Murder Mystery, he displays this don’t-care attitude that is downright hilarious. His bickering with Aniston is honest and funny. Any long-term couples watching this over the weekend will spit out what they’re drinking and look at their significant other to take in the moment. I would love to see the Sandler/Aniston version of Aniston’s 2006 film The Break-Up after this — except here, it would be called We Make It Work.

Once the real story of the film comes into the picture — the titular scenario — the wheels come off a bit. You can feel the sound of thunder slowly fading away as it becomes more of a standard Sandler movie. That said, it’s not an awful entry. I still found myself giggling after the characters are forced to figure out who committed some murder on a boat. The film shines its brightest in its character moments, however.

For instance, there’s a scene when Aniston and Sandler are on an airplane flying to Europe. Aniston’s character sneaks off to steal some earbuds from first class because they cost $8 in coach. She swipes some from an empty first-class seat, but is caught by a handsome man with deep pockets (Luke Evans) who is traveling to a family boat party. The two have a lively conversation. Then, Sandler’s character wakes up and goes looking for his wife. When he spots his wife talking to the fine-looking gentlemen, he leans over to the stewardess and asks, “Whoa! They have bars on planes now?” Any other movie would have immediately turned it into a feeling of betrayal, but Sandler’s character doesn’t seem to be fazed at all.

Whenever anything tied to the plot happens, it causes the film to grow stale. Action scenes become cheesy and sequences of intensity don’t feel intense at all. It goes through the motions of its genre but doesn’t do anything special with it. If Sandler turned his films more into hangout movies, like his earlier work, then he’d be set again.

Murder Mystery still earns a passing grade in my book because I think audiences will enjoy the first act as much as I did. From there, you will have to work on your power of forgiveness. Just go with it (ha!), and you’ll have a tolerable time.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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