Death on the Nile - C
Rated PG-13, 127 minutes
The new adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic novel "Death on the Nile" could very well be "Boredom on the Nile." Award-winning actor and director Kenneth Branagh is back as famed Christie detective Hercule Poirot in this stylish yet plodding, predictable version that's a disappointment for Christie fans.
The peace and tranquility that was temporarily present on the S.S. Karnak is destroyed after one of the passengers is found murdered. Renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is entrusted with the important task of identifying which one of the passengers is the killer before they strike again.
Director Branagh has assembled an impressive cast in the vapid but handsome "Death on the Nile," filmed in 2019 but its release delayed due to the pandemic and the sexual assault allegations against one of its lead actors, Armie Hammer, likely in his last onscreen role. It doesn't help that Hammer and a miscast Gal Gadot ("Wonder Woman") have zero chemistry, with Gadot particularly unconvincing as an heiress.
If the casting is unfortunate, so is the fact that director and screenwriter Michael Green, who wrote Branagh's hit 2017 remake "Murder on the Orient Express," can't get a good handle on the pacing of the material. It takes an entire hour into the film - a whole hour - of dull exposition and excursions to lovely places, before anything truly happens. Once things get popping, it's far more effective, but even then, if you've been paying attention, a challenge given that sluggish first hour, the identity of the killer won't come as a huge surprise (I've learned in things like this, go with your first hunch) in spite of Poirot's dramatic interrogations.
This isn't the first time that Christie's novel has been filmed, with a 1978 version whose all-star cast included Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, and Oscar-winner Peter Ustinov of "Spartacus" fame as Poirot. This "Death on the Nile" seems less murder mystery than leisurely travelogue with a sprinkling of blood and an ensemble of occasionally engaging characters trailed by a nosy, know-it-all detective.
Speaking of the ensemble, the supporting cast is much more interesting than the leads, with standouts Sophie Okonedo as a jazz singer, Tom Bateman as Poirot's friend Bouc, and comedic duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders as a pair of women with special connections. It's unfortunate that the script gives Annette Bening, one of my favorite actresses, little to do among the proceedings; and yes, that's comedian Russell Brand, barely noticeable here, playing a doctor.
Branagh, a stellar actor and director, is convincing, if not hammy, as Poirot, and he gives him an interesting backstory in the prologue, providing some background on that famous mustache. Lavishly filmed with CGI and sublime sets and costumes, "Death on the Nile" is an appealing disappointment, too slow and too long for most tastes. It could also be a tough sell with Super Bowl weekend and Hammer's allegations, which have cast a pall over the film. Wait until it comes to streaming, which may not be that long.