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Knives Out, Laughs In

Old dark house has bright, shiny new gags.

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Is there life after Star Wars? Filmmaker Rian Johnson, who directed The Last Jedi, obviously believes so. His new one, the whodunit character-acting picnic Knives Out, answers the question -- it’s a refreshingly witty and suitably busy piece of holiday popcorn-flick entertainment.

As if to demonstrate that an Agatha-Christie-style murder mystery staffed by talkative supporting players is still a viable concept, the old-fashioned mayhem-in-a-mansion tale takes place in a fabulously tchotchke-filled pile where the patriarch (Christopher Plummer) – himself a writer of mysteries -- has just been bumped off. The prime suspect is the old man’s sexy maid, Marta (Ana de Armas) -- she and her employer were in the habit of playing Go each night under the influence of medication, so there’s plenty of room for hanky-panky. A celebrated sleuth named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is brought in to investigate, hired anonymously with a cash-filled envelope.

Waiting in the wings are the rich codger’s mostly-loathsome relatives, played by Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and Don Johnson. They all detest each other and each one has his or her rascally motive, as in every old-dark-house detective yarn ever written. But we don’t care. We’re contentedly playing the game with the rest of them.

Craig steals the show, against stiff competition by Collette, Shannon, and Evans. We can’t take our eyes off the startlingly large piece of sculpture made out of various knives and daggers. In a curious plot wrinkle, Marta uncontrollably vomits every time she lies. An elegant time-waster.

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