‘Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press’ re­view: Mildly en­ter­tain­ing re­make

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By RAFER GUZMAN News­day

Of the roughly two dozen films adapted from Agatha Christie’s nov­els dur­ing her life­time, the 1974 ver­sion of “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press” is one of the few that met with her grudg­ing ap­proval. Directed by the great Sid­ney Lumet and fea­tur­ing a slew of stars — from Lau­ren Ba­call to In­grid Bergman — the movie be­came a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial hit, earn­ing $35 mil­lion. But Christie had one ma­jor com­plaint: The trade­mark mus­tache of Her­cule Poirot, the fa­mous Bel­gian de­tec­tive played by Al­bert Fin­ney, was too small.

That isn’t an is­sue in the new ver­sion. The di­rec­tor of “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press,” Ken­neth Branagh, cast him­self as Poirot but gives the star­ring role to his own fa­cial hair. Ex­tend­ing be­yond his ear­lobes and thick as a snow leop­ard’s pelt, this is one mas­sive ‘stache. At times, it al­most seems sar­cas­tic.

The whole movie is a bit like Poirot’s mus­tache: mildly amus­ing but not fully con­vinc­ing. “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press” feels like sev­eral movies trapped in one: a pleas­ant romp, a fond spoof and a se­ri­ous homage to a by­gone genre, the who­dunit. If the mix of tones never quite jells, though, the movie is mostly en­ter­tain­ing, with a cou­ple of spar- kling mo­ments from the en­sem­ble cast.

The story, essen­tially un­changed by screen­writer Michael Green, re­mains ir­re­sistible: In the 1930s, the pas­sen­gers on a train be­tween Istanbul and Calais dis­cover that one among them has been mur­dered. Luck­ily, the dead man is Johnny Depp’s lat­est car­toon cre­ation, a gang­ster named Ra­chett; had he stayed alive, he might have sunk the film. Among the baker’s dozen of sus­pects are Ra­chett’s ac­coun­tant, McQueen (a stagy Josh Gad); a mis­sion­ary named Pi­lar (Pene­lope Cruz); the cranky Princess Dragomiroff (a too-brief Judi Dench); and an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple played by Les­lie Odom Jr. and a very charm­ing Daisy Ri­d­ley. Bright­en­ing ev­ery train car she en­ters is Michelle Pfeif­fer as Car­o­line Hub­bard, a brassy Amer­i­can widow.

Branagh mostly plays Poirot as the ar­che­typal mas­ter sleuth whose quirks can be ir­ri­tat­ing (he in­sists on telling men to straighten their ties) but whose ge­nius is awe-in­spir­ing. Oddly, though, Branagh also gives Poirot a brood­ing, world­weary streak, as if re­vis­it­ing his own “Ham­let.” It might have worked, too, if not for that mus­tache.

2.5 stars Rated PG-13 for brief vi­o­lence

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