When Adam Sandler said he’d make a film “so bad on purpose” if he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems, was he talking about his Netflix collaborations? Here I thought things couldn’t get worse than Jack and Jill — at least that gave us Dunkaccino! — but most of Sandler’s Netflix flicks have been misses (I’ll give Hustle a pass). 2019’s Murder Mystery was a forgettable murder mystery that gave him the chance to team up with Jennifer Aniston again after 2011's Just Go With It. Somehow, that movie got a sequel greenlit, and in a twist more surprising than anything in Murder Mystery 2, it's actually a great step up from its predecessor, which maybe doesn’t say much. Perhaps it's time to quit while you’re ahead, as they say.
Nick (Sandler) and Audrey (Aniston) Spitz are attempting to capitalize on their success after solving the murder case from the first Murder Mystery film. They apparently maxed out every credit card to open a private eye business, but their work as private investigators is middling at best, which only puts further strain on their marriage. But as Nick points out, do any couples that work together work out?
Out of the blue, Nick and Audrey get a wedding invite from an old pal, The Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), who you may remember from the first film (I partly only remembered because I finished the first film right before heading into the second). He's getting married to Claudette (Mélanie Laurent), and the Spitzes see this as an opportunity to recharge amidst their private eye blunders.
But as the previous film showed us and this sequel is very eager to remind you, any trip the Spitzes go on ends up in a murder. When someone is murdered at the wedding and also kidnaps The Maharajah, it's once again up to Nick and Audrey to solve this case while, once again, being framed for the murders. Sound familiar?
The expression “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” is oftentimes correct, but in the case of Murder Mystery, why wouldn't you want to change this story up a bit? Maybe it's due to James Vanderbilt returning as the scribe of the film — it's hard to believe the same person wrote Zodiac and the recent Scream sequels and also did the two Murder Mystery films outside of his clear liking of self-referential genre films. The Scream films were built upon referencing the slasher films of the past, and while the first Murder Mystery constantly beat you over the head with references to Agatha Christie's works and adjacent literature, Vanderbilt seems to have learned that one size does not fit all, thankfully, as there are far fewer verbal references and namedrops to other whodunnits. And I get why he wants to be involved — the franchise is his baby in a sense — but following the same pattern with minimal changes outside of replacing the Dany Boon character — who does appear here — with Mark Strong, who has never been less engaged with a role (which says a lot considering he was in Shazam!).
To be fair, no one in the cast really stands out. Sandler and Aniston seem like lovely friends on the press tour, but hardly anything about their relationship seems believable. Their “chemistry” only gets a pass because of their innate ability to play middle-class folks and the likability of both — especially Sandler. Granted, it's the name of the game that he has mastered over his career.
While no one here is as charming as Luke Evans’ Charles Cavendish or the much-needed comic relief that Akhtar was in Murder Mystery (partly due to the latter being the “damsel in distress” in this film), the ensemble of Murder Mystery 2 still beats out the first film as a whole. As you’d expect, the rest of the ensemble is filled out by the key suspects of this case, including Maharajah's sister Saira (Kuhoo Verma), Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), Countess Sekou’s right-hand woman Imani (Zurin Villanueva), Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), and the Audrey-obsessed Francisco (Enrique Arce).
And it all goes back to the script, which just feels slightly out of touch with reality, like a dad trying to use TikTok lingo with their teenager. Having Sandler say things like, “Why couldn't they get Venmo?” (yes, this was an actual line of dialogue) in response to holding a heavy briefcase during a hostage handover or the not-so-subtle reference of having the Spitzes sitting on the Orient Express train make Murder Mystery 2 often feel desperate for acknowledgment. I get it — the film's just trying to fit in; can't we just do it in a way that doesn't make anyone under 25 roll their eyes? I'll give Vanderbilt credit for his nod to the “Au revoir, Shoshanna!” bit from Inglorious Basterds.
There’s also the issue of toeing the line between PG-13 and an R rating. Vanderbilt tries his best to throw in some lines for the adults watching, but the humor in Murder Mystery 2 ranges from the low-brow you expect from mid-2010s Sandler and pretty on-the-nose risqué humor. I’m no prude — it’s just odd to have a recurring bit about handcuffs you’d find in Spencer’s and then gross-out humor a moment later.
And yet, Murder Mystery 2 gets by on the fact that it's bigger than its predecessor. I’m generally a believer that bigger isn’t always better, but there are exceptions. Much like how the John Wick movies have become bigger and bigger with each installment, Murder Mystery 2 doubles down on the action — sometimes to a fault — and spectacle while also building upon the groundwork laid by its predecessor. Yes, there's a car chase (this one blows the previous one out of the water), and yes, they galavant through an underutilized European city (and that's not just because of the recency of John Wick: Chapter 4's usage of Paris), but there is all-around more flare in Murder Mystery 2 than in the first film that's palpable from the start.
There's no greater example of that than the below-the-line work such as the cinematography. Unlike the first film, which was rather static and mundane, the camera actually moves around a bit and has some personality in Murder Mystery 2. Bojan Bazelli takes over as DP from Amir Mokri, and it's the most notable change from the first to the second film. Ditto for the editing, which Tom Costain returned for (granted, longtime editing partner of Costain, Brian M. Robinson, is officially listed as an editor this time around and both guys have worked on a number of Sandler's projects). Don't get me wrong, Murder Mystery 2 still has its fair share of abrupt cuts, just nothing as nauseating as the first film.
Should you stream Murder Mystery 2?
I’m not going to say that Murder Mystery 2 is a must-see film, but at least it's an improvement over its predecessor. Sandler and Aniston are really hard not to like, and there are some action sequences that actually look like action sequences that somehow put The Gray Man to shame. So if you liked the first, I'd recommend the second. If you like or have respect for the whodunnit genre, that's a far different story. Plus, it’s a 79-minute film without credits. All of that said, why not end on a high note rather than extend this franchise? You risk running an already generally unfunny bit into the ground. But in the age of sequels, prequels, and “requels,” a Murder Mystery 3 would be both an unsurprising and uninspired choice and would leave the audience with a case that the Spitzes wouldn't even be able to solve: Why?
Murder Mystery 2 will be available to stream on Netflix on March 31.