Count me among those who wouldn’t have guessed that Rian Johnson would follow up his “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” success with an old-fashioned whodunit — but count me delighted. In this season of Big, Serious Movies, what a treat to find this wonderfully silly, perfectly paced hall of mirrors hanging out at the multiplexes. It’s as if Agatha Christie came back for a visit, after getting caught up on pop culture in the beyond.
The plot is absolutely what you think it is, and exactly what it should be: Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — a bestselling crime-fiction author and wealthy patriarch of a squabbling family — is found dead in his gothic New England mansion, just after the clan had gathered for his 85th birthday. Enter detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) — a sort of Hercule Poirot, minus mustache and plus syrupy drawl — who intends to get to the bottom of this, yaaas indeed he does.
And off we go, through a thicket of characters and motives and clues scattered all over the house (it’s as if Harlan lives inside an extremely lavish solve-the-mystery board game; pay attention to the details). Turns out that pretty much all of Harlan’s children, children-in-law and grandchildren are crawling with motives to bump him off and collect his sizable estate, even as they loudly pretend they don’t. Among the crowd, I particularly enjoyed Toni Collette’s preening lifestyle-guru daughter-in-law (her wellness company, inexplicably and perfectly, is called Flam), Chris Evans’ besweatered trust-fund-brat grandson and Jamie Lee Curtis’ slyly wary eldest daughter. And Plummer, mostly through flashbacks and one very realistic portrait on the wall, provides an indelible presence.
But it’s Craig, expanding on that goofball capacity he showed us ever-so-briefly in “Logan Lucky,” who steals the show here. “My presence will be ornamental,” he promises early on, slouching in a chair and letting the words slide out like taffy. He’s having even more fun than we are — and that’s saying a lot, because “Knives Out” is a kick. By the time it was finally revealed whodunit, I just wanted to start over and play again.
★★★½ “Knives Out,” with Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. 131 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material. Opens Nov. 27 at multiple theaters.