Movie Review: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

It must be me. I’m not a fan of the Agatha Christie movies. I find these breezy costume crime-dramas pretty much the same every time. Perhaps that’s their hook. Audiences know exactly what they’re getting. Swap out the actors and the setting, create a new scenario where everyone has a motive for murder, drop in the brilliant if slightly quirky detective to solve the crime and voila! I did enjoy watching TV’s MURDER, SHE WROTE (wasn’t it on Sunday nights?) but I think a lot of that had to do with Angela Lansbury’s warmth and the folksiness of Jessica Fletcher and her friends in Cabot Cove than on the mysteries themselves. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that I wasn’t exactly over the moon with KNIVES OUT, Chris Evans’ chunky cable knit sweater notwithstanding. I was definitely in the minority – maybe even the only one – but I didn’t mind. The film just didn’t work for me. Now, with the release of GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY, I have another opportunity to try to get on board this bandwagon that everyone but me seems to love.

Set in the early days of the covid pandemic, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, NO TIME TO DIE; LOGAN LUCKY) is lost. He’s been trying to keep his mind sharp by playing online mystery games with his pals, Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim (both of whom have since passed away), and Natasha Lyonne and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but it’s not like the real thing. He needs to sink his teeth into a bona fide case. Fortunately for him, a knock comes at the door just at the right time. High tech billionaire and Alpha CEO Miles Bron (Edward Norton, THE FRENCH DISPATCH; COLLATERAL BEAUTY) has decided to throw a murder-mystery party on his private island in Greece and he has invited all of his old friends from the days when they used to hang out together at a New York bar known as the Glass Onion. They include Alpha’s chief scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom, Jr., ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI; Broadway’s HAMILTON), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY; TV’s TRANSPARENT), volatile fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson, DEEPWATER HORIZON), meathead live streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER; DUNE) and Alpha co-founder and ousted CEO Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe, ANTEBELLUM; HIDDEN FIGURES). One of them has sent Blanc an invitation to the party, which he gladly accepts. Frenemies, rather than friends, may be a more accurate description of their relationship to Bron, though, as Blanc quickly learns that each of them has a strong motive for seeing the billionaire dead. But this is just a game, Bron says. No one really dies… except someone does and now Blanc has to figure out who did it and why before the murderer strikes again.

If you liked the first KNIVES OUT film, you’ll be very happy with this one. It’s just more of the same except with a new cast (save for Craig), a new location and a new mystery to solve. What’s not to like? Yet, I was underwhelmed. This is not exactly challenging work for any of these actors. Yes, Craig puts on his southern accent, which seems to waver in and out throughout the film, and Hudson does a great job of shrieking every five minutes, but the others are just sleepwalking through their performances. Monáe is called upon to do the heaviest lifting here and she delivers the film’s best performance, although it’s a fairly low bar to leap over.

I’ll give writer-director Rian Johnson full marks for all the cameos though, including the four I’ve mentioned above. They’re all good fun. His costume designer, Jenny Eagan, gets an A+, too, for this film’s cable knit sweater. It’s Craig’s Victorian Era-styled blue-striped bathing suit and you can bet your bottom Speedo that we’ll be seeing its knock-offs on beaches everywhere over the summer.

Perhaps the film’s biggest surprise, however, wasn’t much of a surprise at all as Johnson revealed it months ago. Blanc is gay. That should get a few homophobes upset. In GLASS ONION, we get to see Blanc’s partner, and that’s good for a laugh but, other than that, Blanc’s sexual identity has no bearing on the rest of the story. I assume Johnson will delve more into the sleuth’s private life in the franchise’s third installment, which Netflix has already greenlit.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY is streaming now on Netflix. If you’re looking for mindless popcorn entertainment, this film won’t disappoint. I’m still not a fan though.

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