With a 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and some pretty scathing reviews, I had to wonder what the issue was with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston’s Netflix comedy Murder Mystery. I wanted to dive in and see if I could make sense of it. Are people just over Sandler or is there more going on?
The trailer for Murder Mystery, which I’ve included, seems to be a pretty typical comedic pairing of Jennifer Aniston’s biting snark with a sweetheart undertone matched with Adam Sandler’s goofy-yet-sincere cadences. I mean, you could set a watch to how these two work together but is that such a bad thing? I think, in order to start dissecting the problems we’re going to need to roll it on back to where the irritations started to happen. It’d be easy to just go “BlahblahAdamSandlerBlahblah” and shrug it off but this guy isn’t a bad director or actor but it does seem to look like people keep him in some pretty interesting bubbles.
The Adam Sandler Netflix Partnership:
Starting off, let’s discuss Adam Sandler’s movie deal with Netflix because I think it speaks to some of the complications. Sandler signed a deal, originally, to provide four movies to Netflix which he then would return to sign another four picture deal with the streaming giant after the completion and release of those four. So, that’s eight movies. Eight. This started up with The Ridiculous 6 which had its own brand of controversy when it came to depictions of Native Americans. Hell, people even walked off the set. Sandler has had a host of cringe-tastic roles that his company Happy Madison has created, but it seemed people were at their wits end with it come time for The Ridiculous 6.
With five movies already released exclusively to Netflix via the partnership since 2015, it appears a small fraction of the ire comes from perhaps an over saturation of his content. Say what you will about Sandler’s level of comedy, but it used to put butts in seats back in the 90’s and even the 00’s with some of his more serious roles being his best. Punch Drunk Love, anyone? Did an over saturation with his kind of content mixed with possibly aged-up and outdated writing staff play a part here?
Are WE the Grown Ups?
When I was a kid (and even now, but that’s another article), I was a huge fan of Saturday Night Live and even found the slapstick, o-faced and high-pitched tone of Sandler’s schtick to be fun. I laughed at movies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy despite flinching at them today. Sandler was a huge draw back when people weren’t really doing characters like that in movies and the cast from Saturday Night Live were making the rounds of leaving the show and penning huge deals to get films off the ground. It was the wild west when it came to comedy in the 90’s and Sandler was definitely one of the most sought after gunslingers. Kind of like YouTubers from the early 2010’s releasing the same kind of content but expecting people will keep tuning in, actors deal with this on a larger scale. Sometimes studios will take a risk with a known earner but for the most part, they want the safe money and that means actors stay in boxes. Even if we all outgrown the box, there are still plenty of people willing to pay money to check it out out of love and loyalty.
In 2010, when Grown Ups released, I was a bit surprised. See, while Sandler had a couple odd choices in his line-up of films, he also had movies like Reign Over Me, Spanglish, Click and even the remake of The Longest Yard. These weren’t bad movies and they definitely showed there was more to him than just wacky hand gestures and funny voices. Something happened after he released Grown Ups though and I’m not sure if it was a change in film priorities, perhaps more personal time was wanted or what it could’ve been but his films started to backslide into a strange 90’s territory. Some of them were mostly harmless, like Just Go With It (We’ll get to that soon) and Blended, but then he had movies like That’s My Boy that were utterly painful to endure.
Yes, I’ve seen every feature Adam Sandler movie and even re-watched as I researched for this. Trust me when I say that I won’t ever put myself through That’s My Boy again.
Okay. So, What Happened?
Now, this isn’t a slam on Sandler as a person but it’s more or less a critique on just who is telling him to take these roles or start these projects. Like, who of his friends and management looked at The Ridiculous 6 and gave it the green light but then who at Netflix took that green light and didn’t throw up a huge caution sign? This made me wonder. So, I started looking into the producers for some of his more recent ventures and I found Dan Bulla. Who is Dan Bulla, you ask? A comedy writer coming from Upright Citizens Brigade that seems to have only worked with Sandler, at least as far as his credits state. I’m sure he’s a lovely fella, but it’s folks like this that can sometimes lack the ability to push larger celebrities outside of their monetary safe zones. I’m not placing all of this on Bulla, mind you, but he’s just an example. Sandler’s producers on his varied films since Grown Ups show a lot of the same names and those names get more alike once the Netflix films start up.
Often enough, at a certain celebrity level, the star will just start up their own production companies and only work with friends or off of word of mouth through other likeminded acquaintances. Things like this tend to ensure that a star only does the same kind of projects one after the other. Like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, friendships that always link up with work projects can just typically yield the same product. Perhaps that was what Netflix was aiming for though, as they tend to not gauge audience interest on reviews but actual viewership. Viewership is the streaming equivalent of a box office and in this day and age, that’s where you find your butts in the seats. So, sure. His movies don’t always go higher than a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, but those viewership numbers can’t lie. Well, maybe they can because we don’t even know how they utilize the metric, but that’s neither here nor there.
But is Murder Mystery Good?
Yeah, see, that’s the weird thing: It’s actually pretty fun. See, I admit that I watch more movies than most people I hang with. I will give most movies a shot and if you snag me with a trailer, I’ll be right there and ready to go. This means I’ve seen Just Go With It, which had a pretty abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score with critics but a decent bit of love from audiences. To me, audience scores matter more and that’s where Sandler flicks tend to shine. See, Adam Sandler doesn’t make critic movies anymore — he makes everyman audience films. Ones that your Dad or Uncle go to see, they quote it and you cringe. Movies where you watch them, laugh at a few moments and then move on. Just Go With It brought the charming America’s Sweetheart that is Jennifer Aniston with Adam Sandler and it was a pretty unoffensive romp. I mean, there were certainly dogeared and tired Happy Gilmore type jokes but scroll up and remember that these writers haven’t really grown too much. Just Go With It was one of my favorite of the Sandler-Plus-Pretty-Lady movies. Aniston wasn’t a weak character, the kids were fun, the location was beautiful and Sandler had a pretty decent growth through it.
Murder Mystery removes all of that and just assumes that you’re cool with Aniston and Sandler being married already and well into their lives together. This isn’t a sequel, but there’s something fun about pretending it is. Thanks to the reawakening of the Orient Express style murder mystery genre, we’re seeing a lot more of these. Movies like Knives Out and some other upcoming films prove that, which I’m happy to see. Murder Mystery has a solid cast, some of the same comedic silliness but far less of the typical standbys that Sandler goes for. With that said, it relies heavily on said cast and sometimes makes you wonder if these two were always the intended leads. Doesn’t matter though, because the movie isn’t bad. You follow along with a murder that this wide-eyed couple stumbles upon and the game is afoot. The end.
What I’ve determined is that some movies aren’t for everyone, but we’re all fans of the process. Reading critic scores doesn’t always have to mean that, if they hate it, you will. I typically look at audience scores as a loose judgment and then I form my own opinion. As far as streaming originals go, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu already have your money and they’re willing to bet you’ll give their original films and series a shot because you’re already there. Murder Mystery is a film that could’ve gone to theaters and still made money because there’s still a market for innocent comedies that can distract you and once you’ve finished, you push away from the table and move on with your life. It’s not always about being the best but sometimes about just being the best in the moment and I think Murder Mystery hits that mark.
We all want to see our favorite comedians and actors branch out and try new things and other times, we just want to recapture the feelings we once had when we were younger. People like me always want to understand more but the movie buff in me also wants to give people the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, I don’t believe all the strange ire people have for the Sandler catalog of films because the box offices and viewership tell a different story. What I think is people just like to be the contrarians on social media and live for the meme but numbers don’t typically lie. Echo chambers can sometimes dress as opinions and sometimes we have to pierce through negative hype to find the positive gems.