REVIEW: 'Knives Out' is a cut above the rest

REVIEW: 'Knives Out' is a cut above the rest

You think you’ve got bad relatives? Get a load of the offspring of writer Harlan Thrombley.

Worth a fortune, he’s keeping plenty of children, grandchildren and in-laws in high style, thanks to the success of his best-selling novels. The kids don’t appreciate all he does, however, and begin attacking when, mysteriously, he turns up dead one night.

In “Knives Out,” they contend he committed suicide. Officials, however, aren’t so sure and, before you can say “Hercule Poirot,” a private investigator (an appropriately hammy Daniel Craig) shows up and starts nosing around.

In flashbacks, writer/director Rian Johnson drops plenty of clues so you can arrive at a conclusion. Certainly, everyone has a reason for wanting him dead. The son (Michael Shannon) wants to rule a lucrative publishing empire; the daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) wants the sprawling property and a deadbeat grandson (Chris Evans) wants to keep his lavish lifestyle clipping along at the speed of a BMW. Toss in a new age spender (Toni Collette), a cheating son-in-law (Don Johnson) and assorted staffers and there’s plenty of guilt to go around.

Among the most concerned: Marta (Ana de Armas), a medical caregiver who may have been the last person to see Harlan alive. She has skeletons of her own, but isn’t afraid to cooperate with Craig, who brings two fellow investigators (and enough Southern quirks to be labeled Foghorn Leghorn by one of the suspects).

Unfolding in an appropriately spooky mansion (complete with hidden passages and a lot of creaky wood), “Knives Out” manages to reference everything from “Hamilton” to “Game of Thrones.”

A big wheel of knives, in fact, provides a neat visual whenever the Thrombleys are questioned.

To make it all work, Johnson has Christopher Plummer (as the late author) weigh in in flashbacks. He has a dim view of the entire lot and isn’t above cutting most of them out of his will. But who? And why? And what's all this talk about immigrants?

That’s just part of the fun of something as retro as this. Recalling those absorbing all-star dramas of the 1970s, “Knives Out” makes you long for more – with bigger stars.

While Collette never really sells her Valley Girl persona, Curtis more than keeps this ticking as the one who wants the status quo to keep quoing.

When Johnson throws the clues (like a skilled knife expert), it’s not hard to pick up on them. “Knives Out” is guess-able. It’s just more fun letting the accusations fall where they may.

One of the most entertaining holiday films in years, “Knives Out” should spawn plenty of imitators. As long as they’re as stylish and as well-written as this, we say, “bring ‘em.”

It's a cut above.

In any league, this is a cut above most movie fare.

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