By  | 

As the temperatures continue to dip, and some parts of the country are neck-deep in snow, a great way to spend the day is to curl up next to the fireplace, or space heater, with a mystery. Perhaps it’s one featuring a familiar investigating sleuth. Well, if you can make it out to the multiplex, then there’s a cinematic equivalent around for just a week, Oh, and the sleuth’s only been around since 2019. That’s when a filmmaker who just survived an entry in the biggest movie franchise ever, decided to create his own modern version of those Agatha Christie “all-star whodunits” (mind you that Kenneth Branagh had just donned the “stashe” for a new series). Well, it was a hit, so he and his hero star have returned with GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY. Let’s find the clues and keep track of the suspects…and victims.

Talk about being modern! It all begins right in the middle of the height of the Covid pandemic. Political candidate Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn) gets a delivery that’s definitely not what she ordered from Amazon. It’s a large, apparently solid (no lids or hinges) wooden box sent from an old friend. Immediately she gets into an online conversation with the other old friends who were in the sender’s group. There’s Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a former fashion model turned high-fashioned designer along with her aide Peg (Jessica Henwick), scientist Lionel Toussant (Leslie Odom, Jr), and Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), social media agitator/ men’s rights activist, who lives with his girlfriend media/co-creator Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) at his mom’s house. They soon figure out how to open the box which contains several puzzles that reveal an invitation to the island home of their old buddy, tech mastermind billionaire Simon Bron (Edward Norton). Oh, someone else, a stranger to them also gets the box: famous detective genius Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). It’s not long before they’re all on a dock in Greece awaiting the transport boat to Bron’s island when all of them are stunned by the arrival of another invited guest, Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brand (Janelle Monae). Why stunned? Andi had sued Simon claiming that he stole her idea for the software that made Simon so rich. The group is greeted by their host at his lush resort-like island who tells them that they will be part of a fun “murder mystery” game. Still, Simon wonders why the “pro”, Blanc, is there. Of course, he easily wins the game, but things take a dark turn when a real murder occurs. Over the course of a long night (no boats can handle the tides till morning), Blanc puts his skills to the test to find a real killer before he, or she, strikes again.

Although it is a new, very different, case most film fans will focus on the return of that Southern-fried Sherlock Blanc played with a long drawl just a bit west of Foghorn Leghorn by Craig. And he appears to be having a blast not dodging bullets as that gentleman secret agent (his biggest risk here is trying to find a place to fire up a massive cigar). It’s a treat to see Craig indulge his comic talents as he goes from genteel to annoyed and outraged. Matching his intensity is Monae, who views everyone with apprehension and refuses to be the victim, not only of murder but intellectual thievery. As that thief Norton also seems to be having fun with his usual intellectual characters, making Bron a pompous “showboat” who’s not nearly as clever as he believes. His glee is close to that of Hudson as the high-fashion dimwit who is oblivious to the world’s sensitivities. Plus she makes a good duo with Henwick’s Peg, who wants to take a more aggressive and violent response to the situation. Now Birdie’s a beacon of tolerance compared to the near-neanderthal Duke played with lunk-headed confidence by the very funny Bautista. His blustering keeps us from wondering if pools and pistols are a great mix. Yet somehow he captures the affections of Cline whose sultry Whiskey may be a more deadly weapon than his sidearms (and she’s more than “side candy”). And it’s always great to see solid supporting players like Hahn and Odom, although the politico and the grim scientist aren’t as enjoyably wacky as their cohorts.No spoilers from me, but keep your eye, and ear, peeled for lotsa’ fun cameos.

This extraordinary cast is led and perhaps inspired, by director Rian Johnson, who also penned the very witty script. Sure, it’s a pretty great whodunit, but it’s also a wonderfully satiric comedy skewing social mores and media, from the pandemic to toxic tweets, while taking well-deserved aim at the “one-percenters”. Hmmm and just days after the also clever dark comedy THE MENU, which also involves an island and foul play amongst the “well-off”. Smart minds think, not alike but on “shared wavelengths”. The “icing on the cake” for this romp are the wild costumes (Birdie’s just a burst of flesh and pastels) and the gorgeous Greek locations (now there’s a beach backdrop for Bron’s excessive tribute to his genius). If you enjoyed the first outing, then you’ll relish this bigger, bawdier new caper. My only problem was the somewhat downbeat ending. Mind you the culprit’s revealed, but the world pays a hefty price for their indulgences (can’t say more). Everybody’s having a splendid time which is quite contagious as fans will be watching with engaging grins. This is another Blanc tale in the works, but it will be tough to top the marvelous mirth of GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY.

3.5 out of 4

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY opens in select theatres for one week only beginning on November 23, 2022

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.