Maybe the reason this project stands a bit taller than other Sandler Netflix offerings (aside from Aniston being a fun co-lead) is that Murder Mystery didn’t start out as a Sandler film. In development since 2012, this film, penned by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amzing Spider-Man), once had Charlize Theron and director John Madden attached. A few years, and talent shuffles, later and we’re now given a grandfathered-in Happy Gilmore production that still maintains some of its original zest.
The toughest hurdle here is the first act, which kicks things off with Sandler and Aniston’s Nick and Audrey Spitz – an aggravatingly dour couple who are just that way because the story needs them to be. Nick is aggressively “movie husband dumb” while Audrey is irritatingly “movie wife tolerant.” It’s the part that feels the most lazy about Murder Mystery and the most like some of Sandler’s other color-by-numbers offerings.
Once the second act kicks in, and Nick and Audrey find themselves having fun on vacation – and enjoying each others’ company – as the impromptu guests of Luke Evans’ suspiciously friendly Charles Cavendish, one starts believing these two belong together and, at one point, may have even worked well as a couple. All in all, it’s a simple story about a husband and wife who learn to like each other again because of outside dangers (in this case, being the prime suspects in a high profile murder) but it’s competently comfortable and features some warm payoffs that, while predictable, land just right.
Aside from some nice shots of Milan and Lake Como, which do actually add to the movie’s overall presence (one could imagine a lot of this being faked, badly), Murder Mystery also boasts a nice supporting cast of suspects. Along with the aforementioned Evans, there’s Gemma Arterton, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Shioli Kutsuna, and (briefly) Terence Stamp.
It’s not star power on the level of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express for 2017, and it knows that, but there’s a playfulness present that keeps the focus on Audrey and Nick. Which makes everything sweeter when, by the third act, they actually become supportive of one another and break free of the tired tropes from earlier in the film.