The Sandman operates in a curious strata these days, as the haters have had to concede to the fact that There Is Something To Adam Sandler — thanks to stray cool-guy director cosigns — even as the bulk of the man’s output is still routinely met with disdain from mainstream media types. None of this really seems to jibe with the public’s perception of Sandler’s oeuvre, either: his latter day Netflix partnership has regularly resulted in films that break in-house viewing records for the streaming service, which in turn has granted Sandler the kind of sustained relevancy eluding his comedic contemporaries (many of whom he still lugs with him from picture to picture). And while some might see that as an indictment of the common person’s taste, that stance fails to account for the gentle charms and mild nostalgia that tend to fortify what Sandler has been serving up. One of the last movie stars in many ways, Sandler is that rare Hollywood performer with a consistent persona — albeit one prone to lowbrow tendencies — and his films are constructed in such a way as to provide him with the space to flex his comedic muscles. Sandler also works within boundaries, establishing a genre, or a repartee with a comparably iconic costar, which results in a novel kind of comedic friction. Murder Mystery, Sandler’s latest Netflix joint, follows both winning formulas by thrusting Sandler and his Just Go With It costar Jennifer Aniston straight into the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque whodunnit — or, more specifically, a crass American conception of what that would look like.
Sandler has a true knack for internalizing the perspective of his audience; the performer understands when it’s acceptable to poke fun at his fans provincial ways, but also when it’s time to sing the praises of American practicality.
Sandler has a true knack for internalizing the perspective of his audience; the performer understands when it’s acceptable to poke fun at his fans provincial ways, but also when it’s time to sing the praises of American practicality. As such, Murder Mystery takes the form of a feedback loop, exaggerating the archetypal characters and narrative beats of its genre to the point of cliche, so as the audience and their on-screen surrogates (Sandler and Aniston) can critique and predict the proceedings. The supposedly passive hobby of consuming content is suddenly given urgent purpose (in a funny way). Which makes this, perhaps, one of the first Netflix releases that is, when viewed in a certain way, about the act of watching Netflix. That can track as almost sinister, what with the metaphorical implication that streaming television together ultimately brings the central couple closer together, but it is perhaps no more so than anything else in the current pop cinema landscape. And this is why Sandler continues to thrive — he keeps pace with his audience and meets them at their level, seeking to entertain while offering a mild moral lesson about family or community or what have you. While Murder Mystery lacks the disarming sweetness of Sandler’s last two films (Sandy Wexler and The Week Of, both humble in their greatness), it has a similarly good-natured spirit about it, one that’s embodied in the Sandler/Aniston relationship. While not entirely divorced from sitcom-y tropes, these are fairly unique protagonists for a 2019 studio comedy: jaded, working-class marrieds in their early 50s, with no children, but very committed to each other, albeit ground down by the demands of their respective jobs. As is often the case with Sandler’s work, here, familiarity is a comfort and a virtue.
You can currently stream Kyle Newacheck & Anne Fletcher’s Murder Mystery on Netflix.