You would have a hard time defending the limp plotting, the bland action-adventure set pieces or the Agatha Christie-light whodunit twists of the first “Murder Mystery.” And, yet, it was kind of good.
“Murder Mystery,” one of Netflix's most-streamed films, was chock full of exotic settings and mysterious murders. But the only thing that mattered, really, was the banter between Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. Though “Murder Mystery” could be said to epitomize that very modern kind of passive and painless viewing experience on streaming platforms, their married couple was a throwback to a long-ago movie era. Audrey and Nick Spitz, a pair of working-class New Yorkers turned semi-amateur detectives, might as well be Nick and Nora Charles, the 1930s cocktail-swilling crime solvers.
“Murder Mystery” and its new sequel don't have anywhere near the sparkle of the “The Thin Man” movies, with William Powell, Myrna Loy and their wire fox terrier Asta. But like those films, everything in “Murder Mystery" and “Murder Mystery 2” is secondary, and distantly so, to the comic and sweet rapport between the Spitzes, a bickering but lovingly connected married couple. Like its predecessor, “Murder Mystery 2” is built on old-fashioned star power and the interplay between Sandler and Aniston. They’re good company to be in, and sometimes that’s enough.
Whether “Murder Mystery 2” meets that somewhat low bar will probably depend on just how casually you're watching it. For many, it may be enough to say that “Murder Mystery 2," which debuts Friday on Netflix, fits the bill as amiable background noise.
And this one, in which Jeremy Garelick (writer of “The Hangover”) takes over directing with James Vanderbilt returning to write the screenplay, starts out like a new season to a TV series, with a narrated recap of what the Spitzes have been up to since the last film. After their luck solving their first case, they've made themselves full-time private eyes. The clients aren't lining up, though, so it's welcome news when a friend from the first film, the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), calls up to invite them to his wedding and fly them out to his private island and then to Paris.
For those who have accused Sandler of using movies as an excuse to hang out with friends in beautiful locales, the “Murder Mystery” movies won't disappoint. This time, the action has been turned up a notch, especially once the Maharajah is kidnapped and an MI6 hostage negotiator (Mark Strong) shows up. Strong's potent presence lends some credibility to the mayhem, mostly in Paris, but he also gives Sandler and Aniston a straight man to bounce their jokes off of. Some of the gags are pretty dusty, even by “Thin Man” standards, including one Sandler line comparing marriage to hostage negotiations and a dance scene at an Indian wedding that's unlikely to draw any comparisons to “RRR.”
All of this may lend some scale to “Murder Mystery 2” but it's no help to the comedy. Despite that, good comic chemistry can be hard to come by, and Aniston — who's been wonderful in these films — and Sandler keep these films more entertaining than they should be.
Especially in recent years — a chilly period for big-screen comedies — the movies have struggled to figure out what do with bright, funny women like Aniston despite their abundant talent. Even in these decent-at-best comedies, her natural sense of timing is sharp and lively, and she and Sandler make a charming, easy-flowing duo. All they really need, to borrow a trick from Nick and Nora, is a dog.
"Murder Mystery 2,” a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for violence, bloody images, strong language, suggestive material and smoking. Running time: 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP