Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★½

Saw in an advance screening. I should probably begin by saying this ranks highly among the worst theatrical experiences in my life, with unruly neighbors who talked throughout the film and stunk from lack of bathing. As a result, please don't kill me for rating the movie lower than you'd like.

Most whodunnit stories center on their eccentric detectives. Most detective stories don't reveal the identity of the murderer until the final act. And most mysteries lay out clues in a linear manner with them all coming together in the end. "Knives Out" incorporates all these essential elements, but lays twists on each of them to give it appropriate separation from every other murder mystery movie.

I'm sure writer/director Rian Johnson thought he was being very clever with his inversions of expectations, like revealing the murderer 30 minutes in, or subtly including different portrayals of events depending on the character's perspective. I'm not certain it entirely works, after that reveal it slows somewhat because I wasn't really sure where it was going.

It's possible with an extra viewing I would appreciate it more. Knowing how the plot unfolds and certain details that are dropped in dialogue and actions does lend itself to rewatchability, and there's no doubt Johnson cared about his writing. He sets up the beginning well, with proper motives for each member of the family, making each of them likely suspects.

Unfortunately, it's just not that funny. Most of the humor stoops to the lowbrow or tries way too hard to be relevant to modern internet-based discourse. The two teenaged characters seem to only exist to caricature alt-right trolls and ultra left-winged hippies, and it comes across more like Johnson lamely trying to put down the idiots who hated "The Last Jedi" because it had a female Asian character.

But that said, it's exceedingly well performed by its gigantically famous cast. And it's the final act where the plot is unraveled that redeems the movie. The trailer marginalizes the protagonist Ana de Armas, which is a shame. Along with Daniel Craig's detective, she is the only beacon of goodness in this cast of despicable people. She's not the only one marginalized, Lakeith Stanfield shows up just to be a token black guy in a criminally underwritten detective role.

It's a cheerful redo of a familiar genre as well as a timely send-up of the bickering families that will no doubt be reuniting this Thanksgiving weekend. It's not as amusing as most are reporting, but the mystery engages and the unorthodox structure will keep you guessing at what comes next. Three and a half stars.

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