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[This story contains spoilers from Netflix’s Murder Mystery 2.]
Adam Sandler has just expanded his coterie of comedic filmmakers with Murder Mystery 2.
The new Netflix action comedy is a follow-up to the 2019 Kyle Newacheck-directed film, with this one counting Jeremy Garelick at the helm. Sandler and Jennifer Aniston reprise their roles as Nick and Audrey Spitz, now working as private detectives, who find themselves embroiled in a case that leads them to Paris after their friend, the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), is kidnapped at his own wedding. Mark Strong, Mélanie Laurent and Jodie Turner-Smith also star in the sequel that debuted in the top spot on the streamer’s English-films list.
Garelick directed such films as 2015’s The Wedding Ringer, an early starring vehicle for Kevin Hart, and 2020 teen comedy The Binge, but Murder Mystery 2 definitely includes his biggest action set pieces yet, which makes sense when a movie involves someone getting thrown off of the Eiffel Tower. Garelick, who has also done prominent script work over the years, had worked with Aniston on her 2006 comedy The Break-Up, which he co-wrote, but had previously only been briefly acquainted with Sandler, who is known for bringing back comedy directors from his past projects. But, as Garelick explains, it didn’t take long for the pair to forge a bond.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Garelick discusses why he ended up lying on top of Aniston to help her prove a point, how he and Sandler approached the rare sequel for the actor, his surprise upon learning that Charlize Theron is credited as an executive producer, his view on the landscape for comedy films and why he has complicated feelings about having worked on the script for The Hangover.
I’ve known that you did uncredited writing work on The Hangover, and I remember reading the original draft and comparing it to the finished film, and they are just so different. I’ve always been impressed with the additions and surprised that you didn’t get a credit. So I just had to start with that.
That means so much to me. [Director] Todd [Phillips] didn’t get a writing credit on it, either. We put so much of our lives into that. That was definitely both a highlight and a lowlight. So, thank you — I appreciate you saying that.
With Murder Mystery 2, was the first film’s director, Kyle Newacheck, ever potentially onboard, or how did you get involved to direct?
To be honest, I started this production company called American High, where I bought a high school in upstate New York, and we’ve been making low-budget high school comedies for probably the last five years. I think we’ve made close to 17 movies. And this came out of nowhere. I got a call from my agent saying, “Hey, would you want to direct Murder Mystery 2 with Adam and Jen?” And I was like, “Of course.” I went through a bunch of meetings with producers, and then Jen, and then Adam, and I got the job. I was so psyched for the opportunity. In terms of Kyle, I don’t know what happens, and I never want to ask those things.
Adam Sandler is known for being loyal to directors and working with some of the same filmmakers for a number of projects. With this being your first film together, how did it work in terms of building that trust?
It was really that first time that he called me after reading some pages that I wrote, and he was laughing. That was that moment where, for me, I felt the confidence where I was like, “OK, Adam Sandler’s laughing at something I just wrote, so I’m feeling good about it.” And then once we started shooting, I actually got COVID two days before. The prep on this was insane. We were prepping in Hawaii and Paris, and they’re 12 hours apart from each other, and we had two crews. I had to direct for the first three days from my hotel room over FaceTime at a monitor. That was not great for the confidence. But after I got healthy, we started having some fun.
What kind of involvement did both you and Sandler have in the film’s writing?
James [Vanderbilt] wrote a draft that got everyone to say, “OK, let’s see what we can do.” And then I was given that draft, and I did a few passes of the script, and then once we were greenlit, Adam and [frequent collaborator] Tim [Herlihy] added a lot of jokes. We all kind of worked together, and it was a very fun process.
Sandler has appeared resistant to sequels over the years, with an exception being Grown Ups 2. Was there a focus on making sure this one felt different from the first one?
When Todd and I sat down to brainstorm Hangover 2, we started by just saying, “OK, what good comedy sequels have there been?” It’s a very short list — almost zero if you’re not counting animation — and it’s hard to do a high quality sequel. When I saw this opportunity and read the script, for me, I really wanted to approach this as a new movie and say, “You can watch this movie whether you’ve seen the first one or you haven’t.” I try to keep the structure of a movie without too many references to the original movie, and only later, after we had done several drafts, went back and put some of the references to the original film. You can enjoy it either way.
What goes into shooting on location at the Eiffel Tower?
That was so much fun, so challenging. The big action sequence was in the original script. Then we just went through just endless amounts of storyboarding. I built out animatics so that we can just watch the movie in cartoon form and make edits with music, sound and the actors’ voices. So I was able to really make cuts, re-edit, rewrite, reshoot before we even started shooting at the Eiffel Tower. Once everyone was on the same page, we had to figure out how to get permits to shoot at the Eiffel Tower, which is crazy. Perry Blake, our incredible production designer, built onstage in Paris an almost-exact replica of the top three floors of the Eiffel Tower. And we had an incredible visual effects team and an incredible stunt team. I think we were the first movie ever to shoot a stunt on the Eiffel Tower, and the stuntperson, Kelly Phelan, was the first female to ever rappel off the Eiffel Tower.
What was it like to direct these two huge stars?
I’ve worked with Jennifer before on a movie called The Break-Up. She’s just awesome — and Adam. They’re so professional; they’re so quick. Adam is such a perfectionist. He worked so hard. He’ll outwork everybody, and he’ll stay on set, even when he’s done shooting, to give notes. He’s a filmmaker, and I just learned so much from him and from Jen. It was film school with two of the greatest teachers of all time.
They have such great chemistry. How did it work to have them roll around in duct tape together?
I’m always so protective of the two of them because obviously if they get injured, we’re shut down. They were having fun, and they constantly were trying to push to do their own stuff. And Jen’s like, “Adam could just roll.” I’m like, “No, we’ll use the stuntpeople.” And she was just like, “No, I could hold him. Come, lay down.” So she made me lay on her back. She was so strong. I’m probably 200 pounds, and I was like, “All right, she can hold.” (Laughs.) She’s small, but she’s strong. So it was really fun to watch the two of them roll on top of each other.
You’ve worked on comedies that have gotten theatrical and others just for streaming, like this one and Hulu’s The Binge. I love seeing comedies in theaters because it can be such a communal experience. How does the current landscape for comedy films look to you?
I share the sentiment. I have three boys — 11, 11 and 13 — and I watched them watching Naked Gun, and I was reliving the first time I saw it in the movie theater, where we had people literally — and not even joking — rolling in the aisle, like spitting popcorn out. There’s no way you could get that experience sitting at home. That being said, more people will see the film. But I’m with you. It’s gonna take one studio with a really funny movie to say, “We’re gonna put this in a theater.” People are gonna come, and everybody else will follow. It’s gonna take one Hangover.
It was fun to see the self-roofie moment in Murder Mystery 2, perhaps as a bit of a wink to The Hangover.
(Laughs.) I only have like six jokes in my repertoire. So I just repeat them until I get credit in the film. (Laughs.)
You mentioned the Hangover situation. With a hugely successful movie like that, I’m sure a credit means a lot more money. Is that process frustrating in the business in general?
I can’t speak for every process, but when you have several people work on a film as screenwriters, it’s hard to determine the rules. I don’t necessarily have a salve or an answer to it. Is it frustrating if you dedicate your life to something and you end up without seeing your name on film? A hundred percent. But every professional writer, at some point, has gone through this. So many people do work that goes uncredited. It’s a challenging question, and I don’t really even know at this point what the rules are. But if you are a director on a film, it is challenging to get a credit if there was already a script that existed. That rule is there to protect the writers from directors to come in and take your credit.
Speaking of credits, Charlize Theron is credited as an executive producer on this film, as she was on the first one. Why is that?
To be honest, I don’t really know. I saw her credit right before we locked the movie. I’m like, “Oh, wow! Charlize is — This is awesome.” Maybe she’ll be a villain in the next one.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Murder Mystery 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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