The beloved whodunnit gets a glorious update thanks to Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson’s gleefully wicked and star-spangled Knives Out.
Johnson pays homage to the killer drawing-room comedy of English crime-writing queen Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, eschewing the hard-boiled variations of compatriots Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane.
James Bond’s retiring star Daniel Craig has a ton of fun as Knives Out’s tweed-suited private detective Benoit Blanc (brilliant name).
His accent is part of the joke, swapping British marbles for an exaggerated Southern drawl.
Blanc is summoned to a sprawling manor via an envelope of cash posted by an unknown source, in classic Miss Marple/Hercule Poirot mode.
There he finds the body of mega-rich crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) in the study, his throat slit by a dagger in an apparent suicide.
So far, no clue. There’s even a flash of Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote on a TV screen at one point.
Blanc knows something’s amiss from the get-go as he sits in on interviews conducted by the cops on the job, charismatic rising star LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You) as Lieutenant Elliott and Noah Segan from Johnson’s Looper as Thrombey fan Trooper Wagner.
As with all giddy guessing games, pretty much everyone in Thrombey’s money-grabbing family has a Machiavellian motive.
Assembled for his 85th and – as it turns out, final – birthday, they’re all a little too eager to secure their slice of his fortune.
The standouts include Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis, clearly enjoying her well-deserved renaissance as Thrombey’s heavy smoking, acid-spitting eldest daughter Linda.
Captain America lead Chris Evans is also devilishly good as her bratty black sheep of a son Ransom.
He gets to tell the entire brood to “eat s–t” one by one in the film’s second funniest moment, after a ridiculously torturous doughnut-inspired monologue from Craig.
Toni Collette (Hereditary) continues her stellar run as in-law Joni, an Instagram influencer whose holistic lifestyle business isn’t exactly paying the alarmingly high college bills of daughter Meg (fellow Australian Katherine Langford).
Collette’s nasal Californian accent and eternal eye-rolling are worth the ticket alone, as is the niggling animosity between Joni and Linda.
Michael Shannon and Don Johnson add further sparkle to this starry cast, all having the time of their lives chewing the scenery.
But it’s Cuban actor Ana de Armas as Thrombey’s nurse Marta who steals the show, becoming Watson to Craig’s Sherlock in a fabulous dynamic duo.
Knives Out made me all the more excited to see her appear in his Bond finale No Time to Die next year.
A running gag exposing that none of the Thrombeys know where Marta’s family came from is dagger sharp, as are jabs at the online war between ‘alt-right trolls’ and ‘social justice warriors’ without ever derailing the silliness.
A knowing nudge-wink that leans heavily into the genre’s well-worn threads before pulling the rug out from underneath you repeatedly, Knives Out is at once a glowing tribute and a smart re-tooling of the formula by Johnson.
It’s a far better stab than Kenneth Branagh’s lacklustre Murder on the Orient Express remake.
I liked it so much I topped up my Toronto Film Festival viewing in September with an encore back home that only increased the joy at seeing the comically convoluted conclusion so expertly woven.
Killer fun, Knives Out is destined to be an annual Christmas re-watch.