EDITORS’ RATING : 4 / 10
Netflix has often made bold claims about their original titles breaking viewership records. Oftentimes, such announcements regard movies neither you nor anybody you know has heard of, let alone seen. For every “Glass Onion” that dominates the cultural conversation, there are a dozen flicks like “Extraction” or “The Adam Project” — projects Netflix claims to have been watched by millions, even though they never seem to enter the zeitgeist. But the streaming service seems desperate to position itself as a studio capable of making its own blockbusters, even if that means ignoring the fact that what people demand from their home entertainment is considerably different from what they seek out on the big screen.
“Murder Mystery” managed to earn some genuine success for the streaming platform, however. Nothing about its concept or execution is particularly novel, but stars Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston shine as a bickering married couple navigating a relatively genre-literate murder mystery plot. “Murder Mystery” is exactly the kind of undemanding entertainment meant for a night on the sofa, capable of entertaining young and old alike. But while “Murder Mystery” excels at its modest aims, “Murder Mystery 2” falls flat due to the sheer weight of expectation: This movie is too self-conscious of the need to deliver on everything people love about the first. Rather than throw its characters into a completely new mystery with an entirely different set of characters — the expected sequel formula for detectives ranging from Hercule Poirot to Benoit Blanc — “Murder Mystery 2” aims to link its story with that of the prior film. It quickly becomes apparent that, despite an affection for the genre, this movie regards itself as a comedy film first and a detective story second. It fails to satisfy on either front.
An unsurprisingly disappointing sequel to a surprise success
Picking up four years after the first film, “Murder Mystery 2” immediately reveals that husband and wife team Nick and Audrey Spitz have quit their jobs to start their own detective agency. Unfortunately, they’re only making a name for themselves through infamous incompetence — even their business cards look like they’re marketing a dentist’s office, rather than a detective agency. Inspiration unexpectedly strikes when they’re invited back to France to attend the wedding of returning character Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar). But things go sideways when the groom is kidnapped. Nick and Audrey take it upon themselves to crack this new case.
The main reason to watch “Murder Mystery 2” is also the main reason to watch “Murder Mystery”: Aniston and Sandler’s easy comedic chemistry. It’s been fine-tuned over the course of starring vehicles like “Just Go With It,” but it only properly flourishes within this franchise. As high concept as these movies may be, both performers are skilled enough to know that mining laughs entirely from their characters’ everyday marital woes is the right approach. Their bickering arguments are made all the funnier from being juxtaposed against a serial killer case in which the bodies keep piling up. But while the original “Murder Mystery” often feels fueled by stars given free rein to riff off the screenplay, “Murder Mystery 2” is far more burdened with narrative. In the former movie, Sandler and Aniston are able to flesh Nick and Audrey out into a very believable married couple. In the latter, they’re obscured by far less interesting plot dynamics.
Aims bigger, falls harder
Despite being a plottier movie, “Murder Mystery 2” feels more like a victim of the comedy sequel curse than an actual work of, well, murder mystery. Consider this: Comedy sequels thrive on bringing fan favorite characters back into the fold wherever possible. In “Murder Mystery 2,” a figure from the previous film gets kidnapped. This brings an air of predictability into the mix that tanks any sense of intrigue. Of course, this is only a problem if you’re coming to “Murder Mystery 2” expecting something worthy of Agatha Christie, and if that’s you, you’d probably be disappointed even if it did live up to the first movie’s strengths. But that’s not where the film’s flaws end.
The movie’s other major weakness is the standard sequel issue of needing to go bigger. This time, the set pieces are more destructive, feature more familiar faces (hello, Mark Strong and Mélanie Laurent!), and take place in universally recognizable locations, up to and including the very top of the Eiffel Tower. The third act, set in France’s most famous landmark, is the most cohesive the movie ever feels from a pure storytelling standpoint, but it relies less on the comedic chemistry that makes these films a worthwhile watch to begin with. While the first “Murder Mystery” feels like a screenplay livened up by the improv talents of its two stars, “Murder Mystery 2” often feels like that same screenplay without the jokes already added into the mix. What results is very mildly amusing, but not enough to distract from the sheer familiarity of the mystery at hand.
If it didn’t have the weight of the previous film behind it, “Murder Mystery 2” would likely feel as refreshing as its predecessor. But having already experienced Sandler and Aniston riff their way through a more compelling tale in this genre, you can’t help but feel disappointed. Where the first film has a surprising amount of character, this feels cobbled together by an algorithm, purely to please established fans. It may break streaming records for Netflix again, but I doubt anybody’s going to be talking about it afterwards.