‘Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press’ is a real train wreck.

Branagh’s ‘ Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press’ does no jus­tice to Agatha Christie’s clas­sic tale

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Karen D'Souza kd­souza@ba­yare­anews­group.com MOVIE RE­VIEW

Be fore­warned be­fore you hop aboard the­mind-numb­ing new “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press.”

What might have been a rav­ish­ing re­make, lit by some of the most sump­tu­ous cin­e­matog­ra­phy in re­cent mem­ory, in­stead goes off the rails al­most from the start.

Make no mis­take, Ken­neth Branagh’s lav­ish adap­ta­tionof theA­gatha Christie clas­sic is dressed to the nines, from the stun­ning pe­riod cos­tumes to the spec­tac­u­lar scenery of the snow- capped Alps. Alas, the lack­lus­ter per­for­mances and stilted di­rec­tion falls far short of the vi­su­als (cin­e­matog­ra­phy byHaris Zam­bar­loukos). This lum­ber­ing and be­la­bored “Ori­ent Ex­press” spins its wheels un­til it loses all steam.

Branagh, for his part, makes a strange­ly­melan­choly Her­cule Poirot, the iconic Bel­gian de­tec­tive whose lit­tle gray cells crave the ag­i­ta­tion of a who­dunit. The clas­si­cally trained ac­tor is as thought­ful as ever but he lacks the quirky speci­ficity that marked David Suchet’s in­deli­ble take on the role. The back­sto­ries in­serted here, such as sug­gest­ing that Poirot suf­fers from some­thing such as Asperger’s syn­drome, aren’t com­pelling. He also has a rather Chew­bac­caesque­mus­tache that seems poised to de­vour his face.

But the true fail­ing in this movie is the ut­ter lack of pac­ing and sus­pense. Though the film is stud­ded with shin­ing stars, from the ven­er­a­ble Dame Judi Dench to the emerg­ing Daisy Ri­d­ley, there are very few mem­o­rable mo­ments brack­eted by end­less flat patches. In terms of goose bumps and gasps, it’s a train wreck. There’s no de­li­cious sense of mount­ing ten­sion as the mys­tery un­rav­els.

Michelle Pfeif­fer does cast a few sparks, slink­ing about the cabin en­cased in skintight gowns and steeped in booze as the merry widow Mrs. Hub­bard. She saves more scenes than you would have thought pos­si­ble with her brassy strut­ting. Derek Ja­cobi also leaves an in­deli­ble mark on his small turn as the dead man’s valet.

But the rest of the ac­tors mostly go through the mo­tions. Ri­d­ley barely reg­is­ters as the in­genue gov­erness Mary. The same fate be­falls Josh Gad as the of­ten- sauced sec­re­tary and Les­lie Odom Jr. as the doc­tor.

Johnny Depp doesn’t seem to know what to do if he can’t go Cap­tain Jack on a part. His turn as the mafia- con­nected brute Ratch­ett feels so wooden it’s a shame.

Even the re­doubtable Dench, as the im­pe­ri­ous Russian princess, and the usu­ally ap­peal­ing Olivia Cole­man (“Broad­church”) as her long suf­fer­ing­maid, feel wasted here.

Over­all this old school pic­ture sim­ply doesn’t de­liver on its juicy prom­ises. If there was more sus­pense, the film might have trans­ported us away from our mun­dane age and into the glam­orous era of the famed train’s hey­day.

The plot is as juicy as ever. Stranded in the snow, em­broiled in a bloody mur­der plot, these strangers on a train must bare their dark­est secrets for Europe’s most fa­mous pri­vate eye.

Un­for­tu­nate ly , Branagh’s weak­ness for fussy tracking shots or over­head film­ing only height­ens the pic­ture’s static feel. At times the viewer feels as stuck as the train.

Christie purists may also take um­brage at the changes made to the plot, in­clud­ing some height­ened racial over­tones. That wouldn’t mat­ter to me if the ten­sion hadn’t died be­fore the mur­der vic­tim.

If you are new to plea­sures of Poirot, I won’t re­veal the Last Sup­per- style end­ing but suf­fice to say that in this ver­sion, the only thing that doesn’t feel anti- cli­mac­tic is the scenery. As for this re­viewer’s lit­tle gray cells, they al­most fell asleep.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF TWENTIETH CEN­TURY FOX

Johnny Depp turns in his pi­rate duds to play the mafia-con­nected Ratch­ett in “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press.”

Michelle Pfeif­fer slinks from cabin to cabin as the widow Mrs. Hub­bard.

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