The Polish comic thriller “In for a Murder” only finds its sweet spot briefly, and then only very late in the third act.
Veteran writer-director Piotr Mularuk (“Zuma”) was going for something light, a frothy murder mystery which has been a staple of Hollywood and international cinema since before “The Thin Man.” But his picture only gets a little bounce in its step when a group of Polish housewives from a Chinese fan-dancer class take on a murderous villain with their fans as “Kung Fu Fighting” rings in from the soundtrack.
The basic ingredients are here. The amateur, intuitive and “involved” housewife/sleuth, Magda (Anna Smolowik) figures things out before the somewhat hapless and clumsy police inspector (Pawel Domagala), whose chief qualification for the job seems to be his neato Columbo trench coat and very big badge.
There’s inept, lie-on-the-fly undercover work, the funny best friend (Olga Sarzynska) who teaches that fan dancing class, and a hustling “Psychic Therapist” (Piotr Adamczyk) who assures one and all that he can’t track down a long-missing friend of Magda’s until she throws a lot of money at him, “rules of the cosmos,” he says — the harder the psychic demands, the higher the price.
So this could have been funny.
What cast and crew have to content themselves with instead is a barely-involving mystery with assorted intrigues, twists and threats to our Magda, who when asked by her inspector friend if she thinks she’s “C.S.I. or something” (in Polish with English subtitles, or dubbed), tells him “Agatha Christie, positively.”
Magda is a mother of two with a distracted, control freak of a husband (Przemyslaw Stippa). She used to work as a veterinarian’s assistant, which is the main reason the hunky family vet (Jacek Knap) seems so flirtatious around her. He could use some help.
But Magda has a secret ache. Her friend Weronica disappeared 15 years ago, and whatever the cops say about “case closed,” she still wants to know.
And when she stumbles across a dead woman in a vacant lot while walking the family dog, Magda starts to see connections and begins looking for answers.
A photo of the dead woman shows her wearing Magda’s late friends’ necklace. She starts snooping around, questioning a jeweler, getting info from the missing woman’s parents and telling our inspector that he’s on the wrong track for solving this rare, new murder in suburban Podkowa Lesna.
She’s part of the investigation, whether he likes it or not. Magda even goes so far as the sneak around interrogating people as she second guesses the police rush-to-judgement in declaring “case closed.”
“In for a Murder” is a slow-moving thriller that tries to hit a fast-moving target — finding laughs in a murder mystery that for Magda, is very personal.
Smolowik plays her heroine as too straight to be very entertaining. And Domagala seems to be fighting the idea that his “inspector” isn’t just a clown, but is capable of a competent moment here and there.
Those approaches are both defensible and wrong. This movie wants to be a goof on the genre, with Magda’s rising paranoia (she thinks she’s been targeted) played broadly for laughs, and the police inspector’s clumsiness keeping him two steps behind his unauthorized “helper” and embarrassed by it, as all comic movie cops are.
And wherever they were going with this, writer-director Mularuk ensures that the journey is slow and seems even slower.
Rating: TV-MA, adult subject matter, profanity
Cast: Anna Smolowik, Pawel Domagala, Piotr Adamczyk, Przemyslaw Stippa, Jacek Knap and Olga Sarzynska
Credits: Scripted and directed by Piotr Mularuk, based on a novel by
Katarzyna Gacek. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:45