By Stephen Whitty
Murder can be fun.
That’s the lethal little idea at the black heart of Knives Out, a surprising mystery that’s one part Clue, one part Agatha Christie, and both charming and chilly.
The classic whodunit plot has old Harlan Thrombey — fabulously rich and eccentric, and marvelously played by Christopher Plummer — turning up dead the morning after his 85th birthday. Looking at the slit throat and the knife in his hand, the local police assume suicide.
But Benoit Blanc, a Southern-fried sleuth played with a big slice of country ham by Daniel Craig, isn’t quite so sure.
After all, Thrombey had a large family — all of them standing to inherit, and none of them deserving a penny. And rumor had it, Thrombey was about to change his will.
It’s an old-fashioned story, and director Rian Johnson is hip enough to know it. He crams the sets with antique toys out of Sleuth, and even uses a nostalgic, 1970s typography for the film’s titles.
Instead of the golden-age stars who crowded the original Murder on the Orient Express playing counts and countesses, though, we get their second-generation counterparts — Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon — playing flinty real-estate moguls and failed lifestyle gurus.
Blanc doesn’t trust any of them, of course. Neither should you. So he grows to depend on Ana de Armas’ Marta, Thrombey’s nurse and the one person in the house who seems to have nothing to hide.
The operative word being, of course, “seems.”
Constructed like a giant game of Clue, riddled with flashbacks, twists and double-twists, Knives Out is a great deal of fun, and no one seems to be having more of it than the usually glum Daniel Craig.
Luxuriating in an accent you could pour on a waffle, reeling off more dialogue than he’s had in all his Bond movies combined, he’s a hoot-and-a-half, and develops a nice rapport with de Armas. (Good thing, too. They’ll be back together next year in Craig’s last 007 picture, No Time to Die.)
There are a few flaws. The film is a little too long, bogging down by the end, and the plot is a bit too complicated. (Mysteries should function like clockworks, not Rube Goldberg contraptions.) But Knives Out is still a sophisticated treat, as deliciously bitter as dark chocolate — and just as perfect for the holidays.
Knives Out is available On Demand and on DVD beginning Feb. 25. Check your cable system for availability