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Adam Sandler movie tops Netflix views, but shows Spain as a clichéd backwater

In just three days, 31 million people watched ‘Murder Mystery,’ a film that offers an absurdly folksy image of Spaniards in a scene set in Málaga airport

Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in a scene from ‘Murder Mystery.’ Video: The trailer for the Netflix movie. Netflix

A woman dressed in flamenco attire fans herself enthusiastically with one hand while the other twitches her skirt as she turns and clicks her heels. Beside her, a guitarist plays and eggs her on until she looks like a human spinning top. The scene does not unfold in a flamenco tablao for tourists, but on an access road in Málaga airport, in southern Spain. A disconcerted Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston look on. The Hollywood duo’s most recent comedy, Murder Mystery, was released on Netflix last Friday and in three days was seen by 31 million subscribers – a record for a Netflix movie. Spain portrayed as a backwater? Basically, yes.

With this bewildering scene, this comedic thriller concerning an Agatha Christie-style murder on a boat peaks in terms of surrealism. The plot of the movie sees the Spitz – Aniston and Sandler – going on the tour of Europe they had planned 15 years ago after their wedding. But first they take a flight from the US to Málaga, where the vacation is supposed to start.

Touching down in Málaga, Sandler and Aniston are confronted with a colorful backwater

On the flight over, they meet a rich and attractive tycoon – Luke Evans – who persuades them to join him on a cruise. Aniston, who plays a life-embracing hairdresser, is keen to accept the offer, while Sandler, who plays a depressed New York Police officer who has spent his savings on the extravagant trip, is trying to convince his wife to follow the original tour plan.

Touching down in Málaga, the Spitz are confronted with a colorful backwater. The flamenco dancer and the guitarist are there to liven up the business of boarding the bus, which is a dilapidated vehicle, like something from the 1950s. All kinds of noisy people climb on board while the guitar playing continues. The guide, who is wearing a fedora hat and the colors of the Spanish flag – a yellow jacket and a red shirt – urges the tourists to take their seats. The name of the bus company emblazoned on the side of the bus is “Gonzáles Tour” – with an “s” instead of a “z,” as if Spain were a Latin American country. One of the tourists is shouting at Señor González, wanting to know where the promised complementary glass of champagne has got to, insinuating that Spaniards are not to be trusted.

Criminales en el mar'
Two stills from ‘Murder Mystery.’ A flamenco dancer and a guitarist serenade the arrival of the bus, a dilapidated vehicle, like something out of the 1950s. All kinds of noisy people climb on board and naturally, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston take flight without a backward glance.

Not surprisingly, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler exchange one look and flee from this joke of a country without a backward glance. Who wouldn’t? What’s more, although it says they are in Málaga, the scene was actually shot in Malpensa airport in Milan, Italy.

But the stereotypes in the movie only serve to highlight the ignorance of the filmmakers. And it is not an isolated incident either. In an episode of the US series How I Met Your Mother, Mexican mariachi musicians appear to have overrun Spain while the town of Mérida is said to be located in Portugal.

A number of questions Spanish viewers might want to ask about these scenes in Murder Mystery: an impromptu flamenco tablao as you exit Málaga airport? A “Made in Spain” bus that is about to fall to pieces rolling up for a long road trip? Spaniards called Gonzáles who dress in the colors of the national flag and promise a glass of champagne on a bus? The only thing missing is Torrente – the Spanish comic police officer known as the foolish arm of the law – giving the vehicle a fine as Torrente actor Santiago Segura does in another Sandler comedy, Jack & Jill, when he appears as an Andalusian policeman surfing in his underpants.

Spaniards called Gonzáles who dress in the colors of the national flag and promise a glass of champagne on a bus?

Netflix movies have become a genre in themselves. Hollywood stars and Oscar-winning directors have been lured by the streaming platform to feature in or direct their films. These films come out on Netflix before being released in the cinemas or they are exclusive to the platform. The advantage is in the timing: the film will be seen by a large number of people at once, creating an immediate noise on social media.

Murder Mystery is a prime example of this, with the potent combination of comic heavyweight Adam Sandler and Friends actress Jennifer Aniston – the pair who were last seen together eight years ago in the box office hit, Just Go With It.

In 2014, Adam Sandler signed a contract with Netflix for six projects; five films that almost exclusively garnered poor reviews, and a stand-up show called 100% Fresh released in 2018 that garnered better write ups. As audience numbers soar whenever Sandler is involved in a project, Netflix has extended the deal with his production company, Happy Madison Productions.

But nobody expected Murder Mystery to be a record breaker – which has meant 31 million people watching Spain depicted as a laughably cliched hinterland.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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