A star rating of 2 out of 5.

"Do you know any couples who also work together that actually get along?" asks Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) of his wife as they bicker about their new career path. "Billie Eilish and Finneas," supplies Jennifer Aniston’s Audrey, apparently unaware that they are siblings.

This exchange in Murder Mystery 2’s opening minutes is a good indication of the level of humour to expect from James Vanderbilt’s gag-saturated script. As if they’re competing in some kind of Joke Olympics, Sandler and Aniston fire off so many hit-and-miss quips throughout the film’s 90-minute runtime that it’s uncomfortably like being stung repeatedly by a swarm of wasps.

It’s a formula that was also used in 2019’s Murder Mystery, which was where we first met hapless cop Nick and his hairdresser wife as they holidayed in Italy, falling in with a murderous crowd of millionaires. Since then, buoyed by their success in finding that killer, they’ve become private detectives back home in New York. This sequel begins with them being invited to the wedding of the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), one of the previous film’s survivors, who is now marrying Parisian shop girl Claudette (Mélanie Laurent).

So the Spitzes jet off to his private island and a colourful Indian wedding gets under way – yes, there’s Bollywood dancing. We’re introduced to another rogue’s gallery of potential suspects before someone is murdered and the Maharajah is kidnapped.

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The Spitzes head to Paris on his trail and director Jeremy Garelick makes good use of its landmarks – including a groundbreaking rappel off the Eiffel Tower by stunt artist Kelly Phelan, and an effective sequence involving an out-of-control van careering along the banks of the Seine.

There are a couple of other returnees from the first film, namely Colonel Ulenga (John Kani, who deserves better than this) and a token appearance from Dany Boon as the gruff Inspector Delacroix. Newbies include Jodie Turner-Smith, frustratingly underused as an arrogant Countess; Enrique Arce enjoying himself as a womanising footballer; and Kuhoo Verma as the Maharajah’s low-key sister.

However, the film’s most winning performance comes from Mark Strong as a British hostage negotiator. Effectively a grown-up among a cast of toddlers, Strong works so well because – unlike every other character – he speaks slowly and convincingly, a sensible counterpoint to all the chaos.

Because Murder Mystery 2 isn’t just packed with gags. It’s also stuffed with shrieking music, frenetic plotting, over-the-top performances and an obvious CGI sheen. The cumulative effect of all this on-screen clutter, coupled with the film’s manic pace, is weariness; by the time the script gets around to its final revelations, you’re long past caring whodunnit.

The murders barely seem to matter when you’re faced with such nonsense as an elephant wearing a nappy on the Maharajah’s private island so it doesn’t make a mess, or someone having their gunshots bandaged on top of their clothes rather than on the wounds. And, most unsettling of all, there’s the jaw-dropping despatching of the film’s only Asian character, played by martial-artist Myo Leong, in a role so tone-deaf it’s staggering to see it play out on a screen in 2023.

Given its proximity to the release of Knives Out: Glass Onion, it’s almost impossible not to view these Murder Mysteries as potential rivals to Rian Johnson’s witty franchise. The problem is that however much fun Aniston and Sandler are having on screen – they’re real-life buddies, after all – what’s going on around them is still derivative, frustratingly juvenile and occasionally offensive. Thank heavens for Mark Strong, then, reliably delivering dialogue as though it was penned by Shakespeare in the middle of what amounts to a multi-million-dollar TikTok video.

Murder Mystery 2 will be released on Netflix on Friday 31st March 2023. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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