Netflix’s 2019 comedy crime caper Murder Mystery, reportedly watched by nearly 31 million households in its first three days, was such an outrageous surprise hit for the streaming service that a sequel was inevitable. Time flies when a pandemic interrupts life as we know it, and now Murder Mystery 2 has arrived. It’s an amiable enough picture, the sort of movie you can put on while you’re folding laundry, or at the end of a long day when you just need to turn off your brain. But the genial dumbness of Murder Mystery 2 introduces a question even thornier than the scrambled case the movie’s heroes ultimately solve: Have we really reached the point where we’ll watch pretty much anything that’s put in front of us at home? In an age when theater attendance is down and streaming products reign—even if the services that produce and present them still haven’t figured out how to make money off them—is this what movies have come to?
Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston star, once again, as Nick and Audrey Spitz, respectively an erstwhile New York City cop and a former hairdresser. In the first film, they discovered their gift for bumbling into crimes and somehow solving them, and now think they can make a living off it. It turns out they can’t—but just as their bickering becomes unbearable, to them and to us, they accept an invitation to the wedding of their friend, the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), the madcap rich Indian dude they befriended in the first installment. They arrive at the private tropical island where the wedding is set to take place and don the luxurious ivory-toned wedding-guest outfits their host has thoughtfully provided for them—only to witness the alarming kidnaping of the groom just as he’s about to enter his own celebration on the back of a gaily decorated elephant, a turn of events that puts every guest on edge and eventually leads Nick, Audrey, and the core gang of suspects to Paris. Because, well, why not?
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Who might have masterminded such a dastardly crime? Could it be the Maharajah’s French fiancée, Claudette (Mélanie Laurent), who may or may not be ze digger of ze gold? Maybe it’s her best friend, and an ex-girlfriend of the Maharajah’s, the icy Countess Sekou (Jodie Turner-Smith), who mocks Audrey for loading food onto her plate, just one of many instances in which Audrey and Nick demonstrate that they are truly just regular old salt-of-the-earth people, wholly clueless about manners and thinking it’s just everyone else who’s stuck up.. How about the suave Francisco (Enrique Arce), the Maharajah’s equally rich business partner, who has plenty to gain with his associate out of the way—and who also spends most of his time trying to purr Audrey into bed with him? (She resists, obviously.) And then there’s the Maharajah’s straight-talking sister Saira (Kuhoo Verma), who’s clear about her boredom with fancy people, a proclivity that endears her to Audrey immediately. Even she is a suspect, though her possible motives are hard to discern.
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Into this nest of possibilities steps smooth hotshot detective and former MI6 hostage negotiator Conner Miller, played by Mark Strong. (He emerges from the sea around that tropical island like a tall, dark, and handsome he-man version of Botticelli’s Venus, only in a wet suit.) Audrey, having read Miller’s how-to-be-a-detective book, idolizes him. Nick, who hasn’t read the book, is suspicious. Because not-reading is apparently the best way to keep an open mind.
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You could still make a fine movie from all those elements, particularly given the spectacular beauty of Paris. Yet even the Eiffel Tower seems like a mere accessory to the movie’s jumble of action and dopey gags. But wait, you say—everyone loves Adam Sandler movies precisely for their dopey gags. And it’s true: he’s sort of a genius of loopy, laid-back timing—often it’s his delivery and not the lines themselves that are funny. But everything in Murder Mystery 2 feels like a stretch. (The director is Jeremy Garelick; the script is by James Vanderbilt, who also wrote the first film.) When the kidnaper contacts the gang, in an electronically disguised voice, and instructs them to bring the ransom money to the Arc de Triomphe, Nick repeats it aloud as Arctic Tree Hump. What is up with all that Fancy French pronunciation? Later, despite the fact that doing so is illegal, he and Audrey, after squabbling through most of the movie, renew their love for one another by affixing a padlock to the Pont des Arts, what they call “the Love Locks Bridge.” Forget that the collective weight of such locks threatens the bridge’s structural integrity. It’s romantic! And good for the Insta.
As a kooky fantasy, it’s all fine, if just fine is what you’re after. But at what point does just fine become soul killing, or at least just soul numbing? There’s a way in which buying a movie ticket is a vote of confidence in a film, a hopeful act that we always hope won’t end in betrayal. That’s different from opening a pipeline in your home—one that you’ve already paid for—and letting a movie like Murder Mystery 2 wash over you. We still call that watching. But it’s beginning to feel like something else, a kind of entertainment narcotization we don’t yet have a name for.
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