“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”
Rated PG-13. At the AMC Boston Common, AMC South South Bay, Regal Fenway and suburban theaters.
Writer-director Rian Johnson has perfected the art of making movies about nothing, except perhaps themselves. Johnson’s original “Knives Out” (2019), the film that introduced the world to ascot-accessorized Southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (former James Bond Daniel Craig), surely the Cajun first cousin of Agatha Christie’s redoubtable Hercule Poirot, had nothing except a fiendishly clever, elaborate plot. Do you remember any of it? No, but the modestly-budgeted film, which also featured Ana de Armas and a final turn by the great Christopher Plummer, went on to make over $311 million worldwide. Johnson’s other credits include “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (2017) and “Looper” (2012), films I did not much like either.
Another tribute to Dame Agatha and the Parker Brothers board game known here as Clue, this new “Knives Out Mystery” dubbed “Glass Onion” begins when Elon Musk-like tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) sends large wooden boxes to people he invites to his Greek island getaway, which has a giant glass-onion-shaped dome (Johnson’s films are nothing, if not literal) atop the roof of Miles’ modernist mansion. Inside are artworks by Matisse, Pollock, Rothko, Van Gogh and the Mona Lisa itself, lent by the Louvre and secured behind a protective sliding glass panel. The gardens boast alarms that tell people to extinguish their cigars and cigarettes.
The boxed invitations contain puzzles that need to be solved in order to get the boxes opened and to get access to a written invitation. The boxes are a metaphor for the film itself. They open to reveal spinning wheels, colored pieces, a compass and chess and checker boards, perhaps stand-ins for actors, plot and dialogue. “Glass Onion” makes a badly-timed, admiring reference to the “crypto kids,” who are now in crypto jail and may end up in the real thing. One of the guests is an ex-supermodel named Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson). She keeps making Kanye West-like faux pas online. But her friend Miles keeps bailing her out.
Following on the heels of Hudson’s screamingly funny work as a jaded stripper in the recent (speaking of) “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon,” Hudson seems to be riding a second wave of her career, transforming herself into an adroitly comic character actor. The other guests include over-sized YouTube star Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), who keeps a gun strapped to his waist even while he’s in a bathing suit, scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), who works for Miles, Cassandra “Andy” Brand (Janelle Monae), Miles former business and romantic partner and Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), the governor of Connecticut and a candidate for the Senate, thanks to Miles and his money. Brit Jessica Fenwick (“Game of Thrones”) is wasted as Birdie’s assistant Peg.
Somebody is going to get killed, and Blanc is going to figure out who did it. But “Glass Onion” is about so much more than that. Craig once again adopts an accent that has been accurately described as “Kentucky-Fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl.” In arguably the film’s only memorable scene, Miles has a video chat with the late Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury playing themselves in their last film appearances. In early scenes, “Glass Onion” resembles Ruben Ostlund’s far superior current satire “Triangle of Sadness.” But Johnson is no satirist. Ethan Hawke shows up in a nothing role as Miles’ chauffeur/butler. An hourly “dong” “composed by Philip Glass,” according to Miles, can be heard. At 2 hours and 19 minutes, it was one too many dongs for me.
(“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” contains violence, sexually suggestive language and profanity)