Review – Murder on the Ginsu Express (“Knives Out”)

So General Zod, James Bond, Captain America, and Laurie Stroud walk into a bar and meet Rian Johnson, who keeps talking about the Last Jedi. With a great cast and script written & directed by Johnson, we harken back to the who-done-it mysteries of Agatha Christie & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Imagine a movie that spins Clue, several Hercule Poirot mysteries, and that terrific 1964 Twilight Zone episode called “The Masks”, and you’ll have this dramedy about a severely dysfunctional family and their highly successful grandfather, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Harlan, a super-wealthy crime novelist, lives in Massachusetts with his faithful nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana deArmas), who cares for the aging octogenarian. But after a swanky party one night, and some blistering accusations and arguments with his relatives, Harlan is found dead the next day with his throat slit!

The police are called out to interview the family, including a famous lively Cajun detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and boy! Do they ever have their hands full! The suspects are none too cooperative: sassy real estate mogul Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), her philandering, talkative husband, Richard (Don Johnson), and their snotty, privileged son, Hugh “Ransom” Drysdale (Chris Evans). Then there’s nervous company man Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon) who runs the book business, and lifestyle guru Joni Thrombey, (Toni Collette), who is Harlan’s daughter-in-law. Naturally, each has a motive and each is a possible suspect.

But Blanc has an ace up his sleeve, and that’s the nurse from Ecuador, Marta. She has a very unusual tic: she vomits if she tells a lie! Using her as a sorta regurgi-meter, he starts his investigation, but has no idea what really happened that night and the circumstances that went down that led to Harlan’s demise. But WE do! As we see what DID happen that night, (no spoilers here) the web of deceit, lies, and fake news is catching up to Marta, who knows too much and is having a tough time keeping the truth (and her lunch) to herself.

Of course, all of that changes the day the will is read by Harlan’s lawyer (Frank Oz in a surprise cameo). The family is shocked when they find out that dear ol’ grandfather, in a last minute decision, left everything to Marta! Was he coerced? Did Marta have anything to do with his death? Will Ransom use any Pym particles and go back in time to stop this, even though Professor Hulk said he shouldn’t? And what about Mr. Blanc and that weird accent he has? Does “M” know about this?

This isn’t Rian Johnson’s first rodeo for writing & directing a film, as he’s had success with movies like Brick, Looper, and his Star Wars: The Last Jedi that sparked so much outrage with the fans. At 2hrs,11mins it is a bit long in the tooth, and could have used some trimming here and there, but the story is intriguing, fun and, much like the current 21 Bridges movie, goes ahead and shows you the crime (to an extent), until the A-typical BIG reveal at the end and the crack detective explains the whole thing in amazing detail.

I love detective movies and try to solve them before the climax, but I will admit two things: one, I didn’t see that ending coming and two, MY ending was better! In other crime movies that I’ve seen, there’s usually more than one twist and turn to keep things interesting and even shocking, giving you that “Wow!” factor. This didn’t have that. I’ve been more shocked by an episode of The Blacklist or The Prodigal Son. The ending, while tying up loose ends, should have had more of a kick to it; that last minute twist or shocker. I was all ready for it and… nothing.

But I will still give kudos to the cast, and what a cast it is! Starting with Cuban actress Ana deArmas, who breathes such life into this movie and holds this film together with a very outgoing Daniel Craig, something rarely seen from him. Then you have the stalwart’s of Johnson, Curtis, and Plummer who are always great, and Shannon, who can rip your soul apart with just a sideways glance. That guy scares me. After playing the First Avenger for many years, it’s nice to see Evans play such a dick in this movie. 

CLUE (1985)

Back in 1985, in an unprecedented (and stupid) move by studios, you had your choice to see one of three possible endings of this movie when it came out in theaters, which sucked if you where curious about the other endings. Remember, there was NO internet and NO YouTube to see what you were missing. Bummer!

Based the goofy board game of the same name, six strangers are invited to a house for a party and told it’s going to be a game, and given all pseudonyms for their names: there’s womanizing doctor Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), disgraced Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), escort service owner Ms. Scarlet (Leslie Ann Warren), war profiteer Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), ‘black widow’ Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), and gay closeted Mr. Green (Michael McKean). There’s also the butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who seems to know just about everything that’s going on.

Wadsworth reveals to the guests about a nasty little blackmailing scheme by a Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), who gives them all a gift: a wrench, a candlestick, a lead pipe, a knife, a revolver, and a hangman’s rope. He suggests they murder Wadsworth to get rid of the blackmailing evidence, but after the lights go out, it’s Mr. Boddy that winds up dead! Who done it? Naturally, everyone has an alibi, and then the body count escalates with the cook, the maid, a wayward police officer, and even a singing telegram who shows up. Chaos ensues with everyone blaming each other and their hidden secrets coming out one by one.

In the end, a door-to-door evangelist (Howard Hessemen) reveals himself to be an undercover cop and, with the help of Wadsworth, explains in dramatic detail not only WHO the murderer is, but HOW they did it, and with WHAT murder weapon… y’know, just like the board game. If you rent/stream the movie you get to see all three endings. Quite the hat trick by screenwriters John Landis (Animal House, American Werewolf in London) and director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny, Nuns On The Run). Just looking at the synopsis you’d think this would be a terrible game-to-movie adaptation, but it’s not. It’s hilarious, infectious, wickedly creative, and best of all, well written and paced.

The dialogue isn’t dumbed-down, thanks to the marvelous cast that handles it. And what a cast it it! Wow! Try and get another one like that today? Forget it! Lynn really plays his comedy-card here to the hilt with enough ribald slapstick and goofy camera tricks to satisfy any Three Stooges or Abbott & Costello fan. The jokes and one-liners come at a rapid-fire pace with the actors giving it their best shot. It’s just a perfect popcorn movie to watch on a Saturday afternoon. Rent this!

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