Monday, November 28, 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. A Review


I found Knives Out to be both an acquired taste and a vastly overrated film. It barely got a passing grade from me, and I think it was one of those films I was almost pushed to like. For reasons I cannot fathom, people clamored for more stories about Detective Benoit Blanc, our Foghorn Leghorn on crack. Thus, we have Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Glass Onion has some good elements and one particular standout performance. However, it also suffers from a highly inflated sense of self and has a twist that stops the film cold.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is purported to be the world's greatest detective. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has left him pretty despondent. Like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, he needs mental stimulation lest he go insane. That stimulation comes from a surprising source: a large puzzle box that was sent, not to him, but to a disparate group of former friends of tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton).

Our "not Elon Musk" has these little soirees for a group of people he met decades past at a bar called Glass Onion. This group of frenemies are not regular people. They have each achieved great success in various fields. There's Governor Claire DeBella (Kathryn Hahn), now running for the Senate. There's Birdie (Kate Hudson), former supermodel who has now become a sweatpants tycoon (perfect in the COVID-19 pandemic). "Men's rights YouTuber" Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and leading scientist Lionel Toussiant (Leslie Odom, Jr.) are also guests at this weekend getaway. Birdie's assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke's girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) tag along as well.

There is one more visitor, the mysterious Cassandra "Andi" Brand (Janelle Monae), Bron's former business partner whom he diddled out of the company. Why she agreed to come (or why Bron would invite her) no one questions. Bron invites them to a murder mystery weekend, where he is to be the victim. Blanc's presence puzzles but also delights Bron, who sees it as a chance to outwit the crazed Cajun. Pity that, despite Gillian Flynn coming up with the murder scenario, Blanc solves the fake crime quickly.

Fortunately, we get a real crime: Duke is poisoned, but was the drink intended for Bron? Benoit Blanc now has to solve this case, one that involves twins, the hydrogen-fueled alternate energy source dubbed Klear, and a twist that stops the film dead cold.

To reveal more would be to give the whole show away. However, it is here, when we get the twist, that for me, Glass Onion falls apart. What is worse is that the twist is not necessary. In fact, Glass Onion would have worked better if writer/director Rian Johnson had opted to let us in on things rather than stop the film and go back almost to the beginning. If we had the information revolving around Andi and Helen right from the start, we could have had a great double act.

I started imagining what Glass Onion could have been, one that could have been the fun and zippy film it was clearly aiming at. Instead, the forced stop to get information felt like an unnecessary step. For me as I said, Glass Onion stopped dead cold. It was not so much that I did not believe the twist so much as it set up things that could have been set up at the beginning with no difficulty. 

Glass Onion, as a mystery, shows that Benoit Blanc is not a good detective, let alone "the world's greatest". Craig is having a whooping good time devouring the scenery as this Raging Cajun Foghorn Leghorn on crack, hamming it up with delight. After making James Bond such a miserable, morose figure, I think it must be fun for Craig to not bother acting. Instead, he just has to strut his cartoonish accent and roll his eyes.

As much as we are told Blanc is this sharp detective, I saw someone who was more spy than detective. Blanc often looked clueless, and he has information more fall on his lap than find it himself. Moreover, Glass Onion allows Blanc to solve the fake mystery without giving the audience the clues necessary to solve it. When were we, for example, shown the bow and arrow that was the murder weapon? 

Other elements, such as the character of Daryl (Noah Segan) just being there seems to almost mock the audience. 

Glass Onion congratulates itself on being clever and original, but what I saw were elements of both the Agatha Christie novel A Murder is Announced and Neil Simon's Murder by Death. Those two were much more clever and funnier than Glass Onion.

There are positive elements in the film. At the top of the list is Janelle Monae, who without giving away too much has to play two characters. She balances the dual roles mostly well (her Alabama accent coming close to being Craig-level parody). Hudson embraces Birdie's uninhibited stupidity (even if the idea that she approved of using a "sweatshop" because she bizarrely thought that is where "sweatpants" were made stretches credulity). Henwick's Peg, her longsuffering assistant, was underused.

Glass Onion also has some nice production design and a jaunty score from Nathan Johnson. 

However, apart from that, I found Glass Onion doubled down on the bad elements from Knives Out. Craig's deliberately cartoonish accent is enough to make it an endurance test. Plot elements that seem a bit too convenient (if not for a cell phone, we would have had one more dead person) and points of illogic (why Bron opted not to share his COVID vaccine that allowed everyone to go maskless on his island) made Glass Onion less clever than it thinks it is.

Audiences, I know, enjoyed Glass Onion. I can see why. It requires little thinking to resolve the case and gives actors a chance to coast while cashing a nice check. 


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