The oddest thing that must be known right out of the gate about Murder Mystery 2 is that it isn’t really about a murder at all. There is a killing that kicks everything off, but that is merely a cover for a kidnapping that will become the driving force of this sequel. Caught in the middle of all this once more are the bumbling duo of Nick (Sandler) and Audrey (Aniston) who have fallen on hard times since the events of the last film. Delusionally believing themselves to have a knack for solving mysteries, they each quit their jobs to become private detectives together. Surprise surprise, they are actually terrible at it and the work begins to put a strain on their marriage. Thus, when they get an invite by their old friend Vikram AKA The Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar) to come to a wedding on a private island, they decide to go in order to unwind. Wouldn’t you know it, that is not in the cards for our duo and conflict soon crashes the party. Almost immediately, Vikram is kidnapped on a boat with a sudden death used to distract the wedding-goers. Seeing an opportunity to redeem themselves and make some money, Nick and Audrey set out to find out who is behind it with their friend’s life hanging in the balance.
Once more we are introduced to a cast of characters, some new and some old, all of whom could be a suspect looking to get the wealthy Vikram’s money. There is his wife-to-be Claudette (Mélanie Laurent), his previous fiancé Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), his sister Saira (Kuhoo Verma), his friend Francisco (Enrique Arce), and the returning Colonel Ulenga (John Kani). Further complicating matters is the arrival of Mark Strong’s Colonel Miller, a world-renowned hostage negotiator and author who initially takes over the case. However, through some contrivances and a strange insistence by the kidnappers, the Spitzs remain an integral part of the investigation. One thing leads to another and they’ll find themselves on the run, this time in Paris, as suspects themselves trying to prove their innocence. If this sounds like much of the first film over again, a trap that many sequels fall into, it very much is. Save for one standout sequence involving a ransom handoff gone awry and a gloriously madcap van ride through the city, little is fresh or new to Murder Mystery 2.
Of course, much of this is the entire point of the experience. The bread and butter of these films is about cycling through the familiar tropes of the genre. There is even one moment where Nick and Audrey specifically call one out right before it then happens. The difference is that this time it is more of an espionage thriller than a proper whodunit. Even as it ends up following the same general path to piecing together who is responsible, the playful sensibility of the first is sadly missing here. Save for one silly sequence near the beginning involving the repeated barricading of a door that must be subsequently removed as each suspect comes in to announce a suspicion they have, much of the film feels like it is just going through the motions. This is where the aformentioned line between parody and sincerity becomes blurred.
As a result, this makes it increasingly difficult to connect with an experience that is oscillating between tones and diminishing both. When the film is poking fun at itself with aggressively straightforward and superficial jokes, it is hard to take the actual mystery all that seriously. When it then shifts into being about the case itself with the characters trying to get to the bottom of it all, the humor feels like it is mostly coasting off of the chemistry of Sandler and Aniston. This can hold things together for a while as both bounce off each other effectively, but the film soon is revealed to just be a recycling of jokes the first film already did better. Take when the duo get behind the wheel of a fancy car and, once again, Nick forgets that the driver is on the other side. It is a callback to when this happened in the first film, but without any of the absurd thrills that followed it. Rather than get a chuckle, it just makes for a reference that only calls attention to how this is inferior compared to the already imperfect first outing.
The climax to all this, taking place on the Eiffel Tower, lacks the unrestrained goofiness of the closing chase that the first one ended on. Further, where the original was better about integrating the practical with its visual effects, this one is not. In many key shots, it strains credulity that any of the people are actually standing where the film wants us to believe they are. This could be forgiven if it really let loose and the reveal of who was behind it actually caught us off guard. Without giving anything away, the main villain is one you can see coming from a mile away. While there can be films where the answer being a simple one is the very point and can be all the more effective because of this, like the recent Knives Out sequel, this is not one of them. That the clumsiness of the characters extends to the film itself makes Murder Mystery 2 a sequel which is not only inferior in its construction, but in how it doesn’t take advantage of its talented leading duo who are left roaming with nowhere to go.
Murder Mystery 2 is now streaming on Netflix.