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Killer Instinct

Courtesy of TIFF

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

When was the last time a movie was so thoroughly, unashamedly, fun? Rian Johnson might have had “Star Wars” unjustifiably taken away from him, but never has anyone needed a major franchise less. Not when he can, with no visible strain on his part and all the support in the world (including a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival), casually set up a better one of his own. “Glass Onion” is a flawless delight; and it’s crystal clear Mr. Johnson is only getting started.

The plot deserves not to be spoiled, but what can be told is this: On May 13, 2020, several people receive a mysterious puzzle box from billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). These people include politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s-rights activist Duke (Dave Bautista) and fashionista Birdie (Kate Hudson, who has a whale of a time acting the narcissist but also being a 1980s-Agatha-Christie-adaptation-level clotheshorse). Businesswoman Andi (Janelle Monáe) also receives a box, but rather than playing the games she smashes it open with a hammer. Inside all of the boxes is an invitation for a weekend on Miles’s private island off the coast of Greece. Birdie arrives with her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick); Duke arrives with his bikini-wearing girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). Also on the dock is famous private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who everyone is delighted to recognize; his presence means this weekend is going to be fun.

And it is – Miles has staged a murder mystery for everyone’s enjoyment, though he is quietly furious that Benoit instantly sees through the elaborate set-ups and solves it on the spot. But it transpires that Benoit was not invited by Miles to the weekend – so who did invite him? And then the island loses its comms links to the mainland and someone really is murdered, meaning the game really is afoot. And what on earth is the Mona Lisa doing there?

All these and many more questions are answered in a brilliant tease that follows the “Knives Out” template of taking murder-mystery clichés and turning them on their head. Again Mr. Johnson also smartly has Benoit partner with a trustworthy young woman to solve the case. Mr. Craig is a great movie star, one of the most unappreciated of our lifetimes; and now that he is unlikely to play an action part ever again, maybe he can keep figuring out how to have fun on screen. (When was the last time he laughed in a movie? There’s a few knowing chuckles here, and maybe he smiled at one point back in “Defiance,” but when does he ever really laugh?) But the wild success of “Knives Out” clearly had every actor in the world throwing themselves at Mr. Johnson’s feet. “Glass Onion” contains no less than eleven celebrity cameos, each single one of which is on the level of Usher in “Hustlers,” or even Usher in “Muppets Most Wanted.” Ms. Monáe can throw over her music career for full-time acting whenever she wants, too; she keeps getting better and better, with a charming sincerity that’s very tough to fake. Mr. Norton, Ms. Hahn and Mr. Odom play expertly to type; and Mr. Bautista continues to surprise with the depths of his acting talent (not just his physicality) but also his sense of humor.

Because, my God, this movie is funny. One of the characters is named Whiskey, for crying out loud. Birdie’s career is in trouble because she keeps accidentally tweeting ethnic slurs; Claire the politician rarely thinks before she speaks, which involves constant, awkward backpedalling; Miles the globally-successful billionaire keeps throwing the kind of temper tantrums that would embarrass a 4-year-old; and together the glorious mix of thoughtless entitlement, bottomless money, stupidity without consequences and horrified working-class witnesses make for a riotous old time. The fact that lip service is paid to the pandemic without allowing those stresses to swallow the romp is also very smart – think of all those movies made during the Depression of beautiful people having beautiful parties. “Glass Onion” contains the same class-conscious escapism, dastardly behavior, clever twists and genuine surprise, while being totally modern and laugh-out-loud fun. Movies are fun again! Based on this there’s literally nothing Mr. Johnson and Mr. Craig together can’t do; and this critic for one can’t wait for them to do it again.


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