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“The Worst Ones”

Every once in a while, the simulation throws a curveball at you. Murder Mystery 2, Netflix’s sequel to the utterly disposable 2019 Adam Sandler–Jennifer Aniston comedy Murder Mystery, a film about as inventive as its title, doesn’t look promising at all. It has Sandler and Aniston returning as husband and wife Nick and Audrey Spitz, two New Yorkers who in the previous film wound up in the middle of a wealthy European family’s blood-soaked inheritance high jinks and attempted to solve the case. Now, they’ve formed their own not very successful private-investigation firm and are nearly broke, so when they’re invited to the wedding of their gazillionaire pal Vikram (Adeel Akhtar, one of the very few survivors from the first movie), they pounce at the opportunity.

Given the half-hearted, point-the-camera-and-shoot nature of the first Murder Mystery, it would be fair to expect very little from its follow-up. Sandler doesn’t really do live-action sequels; as far as I can recall, the only one before this was Grown Ups 2, one of the worst movies made in my lifetime. And by all indications, Murder Mystery 2 appears to be another one of the star-producer’s efforts to take himself and his pals on vacation on a studio’s dime. The film’s first half is set on a gorgeous but nondescript island (it was filmed in Hawaii), the second in Paris. But in an age when even the most expensive movies’ idea of an exotic location is either an enormous LED screen in Burbank or a converted parking lot in Atlanta, the idea of Sandler and friends traveling to another corner of the world starts to feel somewhat refreshing.

As does the pleasant spectacle of movie stars simply being movie stars. With Sandler in full untucked beardo zhlub mode and Aniston looking like she’s been preserved in bubble wrap since 1999, each feels like a perfect avatar of a particular strain of stardom; you can imagine a whole inner life and backstory for their characters. Nick and Audrey are extremely familiar with one another’s foibles, but they’re also protective, sweet, and trusting. Their bickering is constant but good-natured. Each knows where the other’s boundaries are. They feel like a real married couple — more so than they did in Murder Mystery, frankly.

The new movie runs on vibes more than plot. Neither the murder nor the mystery in Murder Mystery 2 is of any note, but the film commits in other ways. The throwaway comedy bits actually land this time around. I found myself laughing out loud at many of its dumb little gags, such as Nick’s obsession with a particular kind of cheese served at the wedding (“The cheese has a hold on me!”), one character’s constant references to his sexual prowess, and some grisly fun with an ax stuck in a random goon’s head. Look, I said the gags were dumb. Director Jeremy Garelick, who brings a visual elegance to the movie that the first one sorely lacked, seems to have an eye for physical comedy and a real sense of pace.

He also handles action well. Once our heroes hit Paris, the film takes off, complete with intense (and genuinely funny) beatdowns and car chases. (In the first movie, a car chase that might as well have been filmed via Zoom was the movie’s low point.) In recent years, Netflix France has distinguished itself with a nice run of no-nonsense, stunt-based action films, and one wonders if some of that magic has rubbed off on this production as well. Either that, or Sandler really wanted to give this action-comedy thing one last go before he got too old for it.

There was no reason for this movie to be entertaining; the Netflix algorithm will throw this stuff at you even if you never asked for it. Maybe that’s the secret of the film’s charm. Murder Mystery 2 knows its place. It’s not asking you to drive anywhere or to part with your hard-earned money. It’s strictly a Netflix movie, and as such it’s meant to be watched while you do the dishes or fold the laundry or count out your accumulated pocket change and tuck it into those little paper tubes the bank gives you. But it’s a time-filler, not a time-waster. It’s a film of simple pleasures — but they are pleasures.