“Murder Mystery” only half lives up to its title. Yes, there are several murders, but there’s no mystery in why Netflix would enthusiastically reunite Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston – last seen together in “Just Go With It” – even in a comedy as generic as this one.
In olden times, Sandler movies would open reasonably well in theaters, then enjoy a long life on pay TV and other platforms. Today, it’s hard to imagine many flocking to the cineplex for such fare, so Netflix skipped that step and signed Sandler to a longterm deal, figuring after a beer or glass of wine and with the kids in bed, hey, why not?
Of course, that speaks to Sandler’s audience matriculating toward middle age, which, conveniently, is precisely what the movie is about. Indeed, it follows a familiar script for couples who have seen the magic fade (“Date Night,” “Keeping Up With the Joneses”), only to rediscover each other through an adventure that usually involves people trying to kill them – and in this case, conspicuously takes place in locales where a producer/star and his family might want to vacation.
Sandler’s Nick Spitz and his wife Audrey (Aniston) are about to celebrate their 15th anniversary, and all he can think to get her is an Amazon card. He’s a cop (lying about having passed the detective test), and she’s a hairdresser, and realizing he’s messed up, Nick impulsively surprises her with that long-promised trip to Europe.
On the flight, Audrey meets the dashing Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), and after flirting with the notion of telling him her husband’s dead, is excited when he invites the couple to join him on a yacht. Turns out Charles’s billionaire uncle (Terence Stamp, but blink and you’ll miss him) is getting married, bringing together an assortment of relatives and hangers-on, all with a motive to kill him.
That leads to a series of madcap moments after the couple become suspects, forcing them to stumble and bumble their way through trying to solve the crime. There’s even a whiff of Walter Mitty in Andrea’s fondness for mystery novels, allowing her to try applying what she’s read to real-life situations, with predictably awkward results.
Sandler and Aniston still bring their own followings to the exercise – including the junket-friendly questions about when or if there will ever be a “Friends” reunion – and thanks to Netflix’s largesse, the film’s able to attract a solid supporting cast, including Gemma Arterton as a glamorous actress who, in a rare funny moment, prompts Nick to forget Audrey’s name when he meets her.
Even grading on a curve, though, “Murder Mystery” is a tired, bordering on tiresome endeavor – feeling like the pilot for a not-very-good TV show – as well as a reminder that Netflix’s content buffet caters to all kinds of tastes.
“I don’t know why this keeps happening!” Aniston’s character shouts in one moment of crisis.
On that score, alas, there’s no mystery at all.
“Murder Mystery” premieres June 14 on Netflix.