When Rian Johnson gave us Knives Out a few years ago, he served up a delightful murder mystery that made great use of some excellent plotting, provided numerous laughs, and allowed for everyone in the ensemble cast to have at least one or two moments to shine. I loved it, and I was far from alone in loving it. I'd say that a lot of people were looking forward to this follow-up, another case for the talented detective Benoit Blanc (Craig David) to crack.
Edward Norton plays Miles Bron, a super-rich tech "genius" who is gathering a number of people together on his island to take part in a murder mystery weekend. Most of the guests are his friends, but most of them also have a reason to relish his potential demise. They include Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a fashionista and social media personality, Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a famous idiot who has found an audience for his idiotic agitation, Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), a tech guy who actually ends up doing the work that Bron can then take credit for, and Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), a woman making moves in the world of politics. Janelle Monáe also turns up, not necessarily a friend, but certainly an integral part of the group, and there are a couple of other people present (Peg, the assistant to Birdie Jay, and Whiskey, the partner of Cody). The most important guest, however, is Blanc. And things take a turn for the mysterious when it is revealed that he wasn't actually invited. Who is really orchestrating the events of the weekend, and who will wind up dead?
It's hard to think of people hating this film. The cast and the quality of the film-making should please most viewers. It's also hard, however, to see how fans of the first film can consider this a superior mystery. Before getting into detail, it's overlong (by a good 10-15 minutes, and most of the opening act could be trimmed down easily), it's not as engaging or clever when it comes to the plotting, and most of the cast are sadly wasted.
Craig is clearly having a wonderful time in the central role, and that emanates from the screen, which is a big plus. Hudson also has a lot of fun, it's good to see Norton not in full serious mode (especially in the flashback scenes that have him sporting hair stolen from Magnolia's Frank T. J. Mackey), and Monáe sinks her teeth into a script that gives her a chance to shine bright, which she does with aplomb. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of the cast floundering. Bautista can't do much with his underwritten character, nor can Odom Jr., and wasting Hahn this painfully should be punishable by public flogging. Henwick manages to shine in her supporting role, but that's more to do with her presence than the writing (for comparison, just look at the way Cline feels almost non-existent), and Noah Segan has no need to be in the tiny role that he's given.
I like Johnson, he's a film-maker who often mixes in just the right amount of cine-literacy (and he's been very open about this film being influenced by The Last Of Sheila) and sheer fun, but this feels like a mis-step, as if he's already forgotten, or didn't actually realise, what made the first film work so well. This lacks bite, it lacks enough solid laughs, and it lacks that important feeling of satisfaction that viewers should get when all of the pieces lock into place during the final act. Some of the silliness is deliberate, especially when Johnson is underlining the idea of people mistaking wealth for intelligence and class, but some of it feels out of place, almost as if Johnson was worried about people becoming bored. Which, ironically, leads to a few scenes which may leave some viewers bored.
Generally well-made, and with some delightful cameos, this is a nice bit of escapism for the swollen runtime. It's just a bit disappointing, especially when stood alongside the brilliance of the first film in the series, although it's not essential to have seen that before diving into this one. I'll still look forward to the next Knives Out mystery though, and I wouldn't be too pained if I was ever made to rewatch this.
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