Director Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “The Brothers Bloom,” “Breaking Bad”) brings us another murder mystery, in the classic “Hercule Poirot” sense. And it’s quite a bit of fun.

Although it has its faults, “Knives Out” makes you pay attention, lets you watch inept people and brilliant people play a cat-and-mouse game in a traditional “locked room” (in this case, house) mystery.

A huge ensemble cast begins with Daniel Craig (James Bond movies, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Defiance”) as Benoit Blanc, a Poirot wannabe with a brash Southern drawl that scrapes across the back of your brain each time he talks. Although not officially law enforcement, his “take charge” manner leads the characters, as well as the movie audience, onward toward what we all assume is the solving of the crime. Maybe.

While within the confines of Thrombey Manor, director Johnson manages a crisp piece of gamesmanship, but it gets sort of slippery, the few times he takes the action off of the estate. Still, this is a lot of fun, with a convoluted plot and some very eccentric characters.

Starting with Christopher Plummer (“Counterstrike,” “Barrymore,” “The Insider”) as Harlan Thrombey, family patriarch/murder victim. Plummer is perfect for the part, as he exudes the qualities that his character is known for.

Making the most of her limited screen-time is Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween,” “True Lies,” “Trading Places”), intentionally overacting as Linda Drysdale, the alpha dog of the family.

Don Johnson (“Nash Bridges,” “Miami Vice,” “Tin Cup”) as Richard Drysdale, plays cuckold husband Walt Thrombey, aggressive to outsiders, yet scared to death of his wife.

Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road,” “The Little Drummer Girl,” “Waco”) is featured as a milquetoast outcast of a son, Miles, focused on less than he should be, but his character still will be on the short list for murderer. Maybe.

Chris Evans (“The Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Opposite Sex”) stars as the brash, young upstart, Ransom Drysdale, all smiles and confidence as he rubs everyone the wrong way.

Also showing up as the “weird relative” as Joni Thrombey, Toni Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “About a Boy,” “Hostages”) does not have enough to do, to remain a focus of the audience, and her one-dimensional performance helps make her a non-player in this game of Clue. Maybe.

Last in the top tier of players is Ana de Armas (“No Time to Die,” “The Boarding School,” “The Informer”) as Marta Cabrera, the hired help. Sort of the McGuffin (maybe) that moves the game forward, she is beautiful to look at, a pretty fair thespian, and is the perfect choice for her part. Putting a bigger star in her place would have seemed out of place.

On the second tier, we have LaKeith Stanfield (“Selma,” “Atlanta,” “War Machine”) as (police) Lt. Elliott and his underling, Trooper Wagner, played by Noah Segan (“Looper,” “Camera Obscura,” “Days of Our Lives”) both do well as a serious cop/goofy cop (respectively) plot device.

Lastly is a small part by veteran actress K Callan (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” “One Day at a Time,” “Dallas”) as Great Nana Wanetta. Almost never seen, she still makes the movie a lot more fun.

“Knives Out” is nowhere near as good as I expected it to be. But, it was still worth watching. Entertaining and a lot of fun, it is a good “non-holiday” movie to go see, as we are preparing for the annual Christmas movies onslaught.

Also, a big Thumbs Up to Huntington Mall Cinemark Theaters, who unflinchingly (and unrequested) passed out free passes to all viewers, after a couple of very minor technical difficulties.

Funniest thing about this, is that the movies stopped and went black at the moment of a major reveal, and everyone sat watching for a couple of minutes before we realized this was NOT a part of the movie.

Anyway, it was a good flick.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at

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