I’ve gobbled up my fair share of mystery novels when I was growing up. I still do, on occasion. I even took a class on detective novels in university because I thought it’d be fun. So this latest Netflix original was kind of irresistible to me, since it promised to pay homage to a genre I’ve been immersed in for so long. The homages are, of course, as broad as the eye can see, playing up all the basic clichés and tropes that you’ve heard about time and again for comic effect. From randomly elaborate murder methods to walking stock types that know how stereotypical they are (and capitalize on it), it’s rarely unaware of the mystery formulas it’s aping, with the only major difference being the “detectives,” who are basically Nick and Nora Charles without the wit or the smarts. Because this film also knows it’s going to be a comedy, it can’t resist making the protagonists a pair who bumble their way through the plot rather than highly intelligent and rational types like a Sherlock or a Poirot. Which is fine! Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston are well-matched and have enough comic know-how to pull it off, and since the plot revolves around them being the odd ones out, it suits the film’s aims.
While the affair is breezily enjoyable thanks in large part to the cast, including a scenery-chewing Gemma Arterton, I would’ve appreciated more sophisticated subversions of the material it’s parodying. I didn’t get the sense the writer knew the genre too intimately and got a lot of the basics from Wikipedia and TV Tropes, instead. Had Vanderbilt taken specific references from novels by Christie, Doyle, et cetera and turned them on their heads beyond their most formulaic aspects, this would’ve been a smarter send-up—and one worth remembering. Having Sandler and Aniston take a ride on the Orient Express is not the kind of allusion I was hoping for. At the very least, I didn’t regret watching it or hoping for my own swift death before the end credits rolled. Considering the glut of disposable direct-to-VOD projects being released in today’s market, I’ll take it as a small win.
But if something like this is ever done again—and you can bet your bottom dollar it will be—then I’d like to submit myself for early consideration in terms of writing the screenplay. It’ll be more niche than this film, but I think I could make it even funnier.