Was I a little too harsh on 2019’s “Murder Mystery” or do I just like Adam Sandler more now? Both could be true, but it’s indicative of how much comedy can be based on timing and what’s going on in the real world. Coming off a spate of mediocre (to be kind) comedies that emerged from his initial deal with Netflix, I gave the comedy/thriller a modest two stars, but now I think it deserves another half-star as a solid diversion. And that could be because of the goodwill engendered by projects like “Uncut Gems,” “Hustle,” and even the relatively enjoyable “Hubie Halloween.” Or I could have just been in a worse mood four years ago. Whatever the reason, “Murder Mystery 2” gets the job done in much the same way. Once again, Sandler’s charm is the strength. Once again, the relatively tight runtime (this one is only 90) keeps The Sandman and his writers away from the meandering non-jokes that fatten the worst Happy Madison movies. And, once again, it’s an easy way to tune out the real world for a feature runtime. Maybe it’s just that we need that more in the 2020s than we did pre-pandemic? It’s a mystery.
Sandler returns as Nick Spitz, an NYC police officer who has hung up traditional police work to become a crime solver with his wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston). After the chaotic action of the original, they’ve become private dicks, solving crimes for a fee, but they’re struggling to make it work. A quick-cut prologue that feels likely (and mercifully) truncated after I bet some test screenings went awry, the real action of “Murder Mystery 2” kicks in when the Maharajah from the original film (Adeel Akhtar) invites him to a lavish wedding in a tropical locale. Once again, Audrey and Nick are outsiders in a foreign land, which allows for a bit of ‘Ugly Americans’ humor but mostly plays into registers of class humor instead. In both films, they’re struggling to make ends meet and they’re thrust into worlds with people who toss around millions of dollars like money has no meaning. These punny Poirots are outsiders not merely because they come from another country, but from what looks like another world when it comes to wealth and privilege, and Aniston and Sandler are good at conveying that without relying on it for cheap humor.
The Maharajah’s wedding is massive affair, complete with group dancing and an entrance on an elephant. That’s when things go awry. The groom’s bodyguard ends up being the one on the pachyderm, murdered by a cheese knife in the side, but it’s really a distraction for the Maharajah to be kidnapped. Who’s behind it? “Murder Mystery 2” sets up a group of suspects that includes the bride Claudette (Melanie Laurent), an ex-girlfriend named Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), the sister Saira (Kuhoo Verma), a business partner named Francisco (Enrique Arce), and an ace negotiator named Miller (Mark Strong), but this isn’t “Glass Onion.” The mystery of the title is merely a way to drive the plot from one silly set piece to another, and, before they know it, the Spitzes are racing through the streets of Paris with ransom money and dangling from the Eiffel Tower.
Aniston is “along for the ride” more than ever and isn’t given quite enough to do here to match her comedic talent, but she does have an easy-going chemistry with Sandler that’s undeniable. These two have been acting together for years, and there’s an unforced dynamic to their repartee that’s essential to a film like this. We should never question if the leads even like each other in a movie like “Murder Mystery 2,” and that never happens here. They’re not exactly deep characters—the breakneck nature of the kidnapping plot doesn’t allow it—but Aniston and Sandler do a lot by merely relying on their familiarity with one another as performers. And the supporting cast understands how to get out of their way, making an impact when they can but never distracting from the momentum of the piece in the manner that Happy Madison regulars often do (looking at you, Schneider).
Director Jeremy Garelick just kind of pushes the train down the track, and he doesn’t exactly excel at action—a fight scene in a speeding van is particularly clunky in terms of choreography. Still, there’s something to be said about the efficiency of this venture, especially in an era of so much bloat in feature films and television. “Murder Mystery 2” has no loftier goals than disposable entertainment for 90 minutes, and it gets the job done. Heck, I may end up liking it even more by the time they make a third one.
On Netflix today.