Murder Mystery (2019)

2019 #96
Kyle Newacheck | 97 mins | streaming (UHD) | 2.00:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a murder mystery in which there is a murder under mysterious circumstances, and it falls to vacationing NY cop Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and his murder-mystery-loving wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) to solve these mysterious murders.

I’m no great fan of Sandler, and he’s probably the least funny person in this film, but I also didn’t find him outright objectionable. His character — an underachieving middle-aged beat cop who pretends to be a detective to his long-suffering wife — seems like the kind of guy who’d think he’s funnier than he is, so Sandler’s attempts at humour mostly come off as in-character. Put another way, it works in spite of itself. Of the two leads, Aniston is definitely the one doing the most work for the film, both in terms of actually being amusing and giving it some kind of emotional character arc.

Detectives or suspects?

The actual mystery plot is no great shakes — there are two glaring clues early on that give most of the game away, especially if you’re well-versed in watching murder mysteries and spotting such hints. That’s somewhat beside the point, though, because there’s enough fun to be had along the way to make up for it, and there are still some reasonable red herrings. The fact the cast is staffed by an array of experienced mostly-British thesps, many of whom have no doubt appeared in their share of ‘real’ murder mysteries — the likes of Luke Evans, Gemma Arterton, Adeel Akhtar, David Walliams, and Terence Stamp — definitely helps keep proceedings afloat.

There are a few of action-y scenes — a shoot-out, some hijinks on a hotel ledge, a decent car chase for the finale — that keep the momentum up too. Plus it mostly looks suitably luxuriant and exotic (the odd bout of iffy green screen aside), matching its high-class backdrop and French Riviera setting. Altogether, it makes for a suitably easy-watching 90-minutes in front of Netflix.

3 out of 5

Murder Mystery is available on Netflix everywhere now.

Office Space (1999)

2016 #54
Mike Judge | 86 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

“From the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head” is not a designation that’s going to help sell a film to many people anymore. That the same fella also went on to write and direct the mediocre Idiocracy does it no favour in my eyes, either. The man in question is Mike Judge, and his first live-action feature — this — quickly became a cult favourite, apparently beloved of IT guys and office workers in general everywhere. Well, one has to see what all the fuss is about, doesn’t one?

Office Space is, in its way, the story of Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a frustrated office drone. He agrees to go to a hypnotism session with his girlfriend to try to alleviate his stress. While under, he reaches a state of relaxation… so relaxed, he doesn’t even register when the hypnotherapist dies before bringing Peter out of his trance. In his state of newfound enlightenment, his honesty gets him a promotion at work, he finally asks out the girl at the local restaurant (Jennifer Aniston), and, when his IT friends are laid off, sets about scamming the company he works for.

So, there’s sort of a wish-fulfilment thing going on here, which must partly explain its popularity. It’s a film about low-level white collar workers, stuck in unfulfilling office jobs, having to do the repetitious and sometimes stupid bidding of the higher-ups — guys who don’t actually do anything, really, but will certainly get to keep their jobs when lay-offs are needed, even as the little guys who actually do the work get the sack. Wouldn’t it be great to find yourself in a position where you could stick it to Management?

In truth, the plot doesn’t quite fill the slight running time, and Judge doesn’t seem to quite know how to end it — clearly he doesn’t want his hero figure getting caught out, but it can’t just go on forever. Fortunately, this is a comedy, and so plot matters only so much if the rest is funny. In some respects it’s a story of “first world problems” — these guys have decent jobs, making decent money, but it’s boring — but at least it finds the humour in this. Little vignettes of office life, a mix of light satire and gentle surrealism, keep the amusement ticking over too.

I’m not about to sign up for the cult of Office Space, but it is a funny way to spend a brisk under-90-minutes — more “quite amusing” than “laugh-out-loud funny”, though. As it’s now 17 years old, you also have to wonder if it’s a bit of a time-capsule for a passed era.

4 out of 5

This review is part of 1999 Week.

We’re the Millers (2013)

2014 #59
Rawson Marshall Thurber | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

We're the MillersThe film that technically won Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter the Rising Star Award at the 2014 BAFTAs, We’re the Millers concerns SNL alumnus Jason Sudeikis attempting to pay off a drug debt by recruiting a fake family, with stripper Jennifer Aniston as his wife, homeless Emma Roberts as his daughter, and halfwit naïf Poulter as his son. Together they attempt to smuggle drugs across the border from Mexico. Hilarity ensues.

It’s not, generally speaking, “my kind of film” — that kind being (or “not being”, I guess) “modern mainstream American comedy” — but it’s the third feature from the writer-director of Dodgeball (his second doesn’t seem to merit anybody’s attention), a film I very much liked back-when, so I thought I’d give this a go. I’m glad I did, because while it’s not particularly remarkable, nor likely to redeem that entire genre for me, it is a suitably amusing and entertaining comedy.

The story’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s a comedy so that’s fine. Sudeikis is alright, though for someone apparently dubbed the funniest man in America (I swear I read that somewhere, but can’t find a citation now) this clearly isn’t showing his best work. There are flashes of inspiration though, not least the most perfectly-timed breaking of the fourth wall that you’ll see any time soon. The rest of the primary cast have the best material: Aniston and Roberts play against type (or at least expectation) as the worldly women, while Poulter gets the lion’s share of memorable moments. Well, him and Nick Offerman as the FBI agent they stumble upon. (Between this and The Kings of Summer I’ve ‘discovered’ Offerman this year, and I am amused.)

There is no way to caption this imageReviews for We’re the Millers are resoundingly average across the board, remarkably so (which is why I’m remarking on it). The funny thing is, some critics begrudgingly admit they liked it while giving it half marks, and others are very down on it… while still giving it half marks. It’s the same story for user reviews on Letterboxd, etc. The consensus of more trusted sources is that it’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it’s funny enough and thus achieves its primary aim. And honestly, if a comedy amuses me then I’m happy — that’s its point; its purpose in existence. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or spectacularly original if it’s still funny. Originality is admirable, but fades if someone does it better later. And if I wanted something deep, I’d be watching something else.

On these points, then, We’re the Millers is a surprising success.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.