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Now here’s a mystery worth solving: Why doesn’t Hollywood give us more ridiculously complicated, gratuitously eccentric whodunits? You know, the kind of all-star affairs where a colorful assortment of highly suspicious characters gather in a remote manor, or at an old castle, or on the Orient Express, in order to be confronted by a corpse and the prospect that a murderer lurks among them. It’s not that audiences have lost their appetite for such tales. Au contraire, ’twas television that killed the old-fashioned detective story. Over the years, “Murder She Wrote” and “Masterpiece Mystery!” have rendered such movies redundant — on the big screen at least — by solving procedurals on the small screen each week.
With “Knives Out,” writer-director Rian Johnson shows that there’s life left in the genre, paying crowd-pleasing tribute to the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell with a wondrously convoluted case recounted in the most roundabout way possible. Taking a break between “Star Wars” sequels to knock off something a little less far, far away from his heart (which is not to say that he hasn’t put himself into George Lucas’ galaxy), Johnson returns to the genre that started it all for him — as the director who translated hard-boiled detective novels to a high school setting in his 2005 debut, “Brick.” The director has learned a few tricks since, and here he gets to show them off in service of a suitably squirrelly plot.
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