Knives Out ✮✮


By Glenn Lovell

Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” scores points for being a rarity among the current slate of overproduced holiday attractions: It’s a talky, old-fashioned whodunit set in a storied New England mansion. It comes with the requisite murders, misleading clues and secret passages (well, at least one). And as genre send-up it’s played more for scoffs than scares. Its precursor? Most likely René Clair’s “And Then There Were None,” adapted from Agatha Christie’s quintessential “Ten Little Indians.”knives2

Like the Clair classic, this potentially lethal parlor game boasts an infuriatingly deliberate sleuth patterned after Hercule Poirot (Daniel Craig, doing Kevin Spacey’s molasses drawl) and a gaggle of eager suspects, one of whom may have murdered millionaire mystery author Harlan Thrombey on the night of his 85th birthday party. With smug satisfaction Thrombey used the occasion to disinherit his hyena-like progeny, one by one.

Thrombey is portrayed by a remarkably spry Christopher Plummer,  who, like a fine Beaujolais, keeps getting better with age. The wealthy patriarch easily bests his ingrate children and their spouses, who are forever swooping and cawing like a flock of testy magpies. Cuban thesp Ana de Armas is the writer’s suspiciously protective nurse-in-residence.

Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc is as the name implies something of a cipher.  Usually skulkingknives1 in the shadows, he fixes each suspect with low-beam glower where a tad more diffidence and charm would do.  The celebrity suspects prove a mixed bag. A couple have backstories and interesting motives, most don’t. Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris (Captain America) Evans as Thrombey’s imperious daughter and smirking grandson leave the strongest impression. The under-utilized Don Johnson passes through as Curtis’s duplicitous husband; Toni Collette and Michael Shannon, the most openly hostile, glare and sulk from the wings.

Where director-scenarist Johnson (“Looper,” “Star Wars VIII”) stumbles is in plotting and pacing. Which is about like saying a ship’s only weakness is its hull. At over two hours, “Knives Out” feels overlong, padded. The best Miss Marple movies run under 90 minutes. Johnson’s attempts at misdirection are about as subtle as a sign screaming “Caution: Red Herrings Ahead!”

Just when we think Blanc is about to wrap things up, Johnson throws in a car chase — and a review of same. “That was the dumbest car chase of all time,” a local detective says, beating us to the punch.

The denouement featuring obvious drawing room fixture isn’t reached so much as laboriously coughed up, like a fur-ball.

KNIVES OUT ✮✮ With Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, LaKeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford. Written, directed by Rian Johnson. 130 min. Rated PG-13 (profanity, semi-intense situations, slight violence)


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