For a re­view of “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press,”

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Agatha Christie’s 1934 mys­tery novel “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press” was mem­o­rably adapted to film in 1974, with Al­bert Fin­ney play­ing the fas­tid­i­ous Bel­gian de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot. Now, Sir Ken­neth Branagh slips into Poirot’s sig­na­ture splen­did mus­tache in a starstud­ded, big- bud­get re­make, which he has also di­rected.

The way he tears into the per­for­mance, with an el­e­gant vigor, it seems as though Branagh has been wait­ing his whole life to age into the role of Poirot, clearly rel­ish­ing the blend of quirky metic­u­lous­ness— one could call it ob­ses­sive- com­pul­sive­ness— and cheeky hu­mor. He runs away with the pic­ture, both as star and di­rec­tor, with lav­ish pro­duc­tion de­sign and an in­tox­i­cat­ing and daz­zling dis­play of cin­e­matic style.

The mur­der mys­tery set aboard a train from Is­tan­bul to Calais is the kind of old­fash­ioned romp we don’t of­ten see any­more, ex­e­cuted with a thor­oughly mod­ern sense of verve and rhythm. An open­ing pro­logue set in Jerusalem con­cern­ing a miss­ing re­li­gious relic shows us Poirot’s unique meth­ods, as well as lays out the spritely, agile pace and warm hu­mor that per­vades Poirot’s pres­ence. De­spite his deal­ings with das­tardly do­ings, Poirot main­tains a sense of dig­nity and cheer. He’s truly funny — this is a man who wears an elab­o­rate sleep­ing mask on his mus­tache and gig­gles in­ces­santly at Dick­ens— but he does take crime very se­ri­ously.

Poirot’s hop­ing for a va­ca­tion, but alas, that’s not to be. When he runs into an old pal in Is­tan­bul ( while mar­veling over an ar­ray of breads — this man loves his baked goods), he se­cures pas­sage aboard a lux­ury sleeper train, soon to be­come a crime scene. Through a se­ries of dizzy­ingly com­pli­cated long shots, we’re in­tro­duced to all our main char­ac­ters in the train sta­tion as they board, the char­ac­ter­is­tics and clues fly­ing fast and fu­ri­ously.

As for the stars in “starstud­ded,” we’ve got well­re­garded fa­vorites — Michelle Pfeif­fer as a cougar­ish husband hunter, Judi Dench as a Rus­sian princess, Pene­lope Cruz as a se­vere mis­sion­ary, Willem Dafoe as an Aus­trian pro­fes­sor and Johnny Depp ap­pro­pri­ately cast as a dirt bag gang­ster and ob­vi­ous vil­lain. Join­ing them are up- and- com­ers Daisy Ri­d­ley as an in­ter­na­tional gov­erness, Les­lie Odom Jr. as a no­ble doc­tor, Sergei Pol­unin and Lucy Boyn­ton as a reclu­sive Count and Contessa, and Josh Gad as the gang­ster’s sec­re­tary. When the mur­der is dis­cov­ered, Poirot is pressed into duty, and all pas­sen­gers be­come sus­pects.

Those who have read the book or know the orig­i­nal film will knowthe twists and turns of the mys­tery, but it’s not worth spoil­ing for those who are new to the story. The pop and fizz of the open­ing, and the lush pro­duc­tion are ut­terly trans­port­ing and will make you crave a crois­sant, a coupe of cham­pagne and a long trip on a lux­ury train through a win­try land­scape.

But as the mys­tery deep­ens, re­veals it­self and grows darker, it be­comes sad, delv­ing into the af­ter­math of trauma and how it re­veals it­self. No longer a romp, all of the en­ergy that Branagh starts out with drains like blood out of a corpse, leav­ing the film ul­ti­mately cold to the touch. The be­gin­ning is a rol­lick­ing ride that will likely leave au­di­ences crav­ing more Christie, and here’s hop­ing we do see Branagh re­turn as Poirot— his ren­di­tion is too fun to be cut short.

“Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press,” a Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for vi­o­lence and the­matic ele­ments. Run­ning time: 114 min­utes.

“Daddy’s Home 2”

“Daddy’s Home 2” just might have to meet “A Bad Moms Christ­mas” out­side in the park­ing lot to rum­ble over this turf war. Both films are sea­sonal romps about in­ter­gen­er­a­tional love, ac­cep­tance and dif­fer­ent par­ent­ing styles, but “Daddy’s Home 2” slightly gets the edge. The sur­real and silly se­quel to the hit 2015 com­edy skates on the well- known but still- ap­peal­ing comic per­sonas of stars Will Fer­rell and Mark Wahlberg and their zany chem­istry.

Co- writer and di­rec­tor Sean Anders re­turns to helm the fam­ily com­edy, and like the moms in “Bad Moms Christ­mas,” “Daddy’s Home 2” dou­bles down on the dads. While mil­que­toast sweetie step­dad Brad ( Fer­rell) man­aged to ex­ert his sen­si­tive, progressive in­flu­ence on tough guy Dusty ( Wahlberg), it’s a whole new ball­game when their fa­thers come to town. Jon Lith­gow is bril­liantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, aka Pop Pop, a chatty re­tired mail­man with cook­ies in his pocket. Then there’s Dusty’s fa­ther, Kurt ( Mel Gib­son), who goes by “El Padre” with the kids and is a wom­an­iz­ing, vir­u­lently ma­cho as­tro­naut who keeps try­ing to give his grand­chil­dren guns for Christ­mas.

The se­cret sauce that makes the “Daddy’s Home” films work is the strange brew of chem­istry be­tween Wahlberg and Fer­rell. Wahlberg is his breathy, ex­as­per­ated self, while Fer­rell ex­e­cutes his naive oaf rou­tine he does so well, lend­ing his clumsy phys­i­cal­ity to all man­ner of bod­ily in­jury, ac­ci­dents and mishaps. Christ­mas, of course, lends it­self well to the re­peated power tool gags that Brad gets into, with snow blow­ers and lights and chain­saws and cell­phone tow­ers.

With the added dads around, those an­tics be­come fran­tic. The ma­nia pro­duced by four war­ring dads, two moms and sev­eral pre­co­cious kids means the film al­most never stops to breathe or let a bit run its full course. There’s a ge­nius ther­mo­stat dad joke that would have been that much fun­nier with more time, but the film zips through jokes and plot points to fit them all in.

Lith­gow’s char­ac­ter is so de­light­fully con­ceived and per­formed with many tiny per­fect de­tails that Don prac­ti­cally de­serves a spinoff sit­com. The soft un­der­belly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is cel­e­brat­ing softer male emo­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity, and Don is the per­fect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how that makes peo­ple around him feel warm and happy. That progressive idea needs a foil, some­thing to bump up against, which is rep­re­sented by the toxic, ma­cho swag­ger of Kurt. The cast­ing of Gib­son is pretty per­fect for that, but you have to won­der if he’s to­tally in on the joke.

Kurt is the vil­lain of the film, en­cour­ag­ing vi­o­lence be­tween the dads and ag­gres­sive sex­u­al­ity on lit­tle Dy­lan ( Owen Vac­caro), who has his first crush. He gives ob­vi­ously egre­giously bad ad­vice, urg­ing his grand­son to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the ca­boose.” But the film wants to have it both ways, play­ing it for laughs. The ca­sual sex­ual ha­rass­ment in­cites groans in­stead ( Gib­son’s back­ground doesn’t help). While Brad lec­tures on the “friend zone,” he man­ages to skip ac­tu­ally talk­ing about con­sent.

“Daddy’s Home 2” has its highs and lows. There are mo­ments when it’s deliri­ously silly and de­light­ful, and oth­ers where it misses the mark, lack­ing the con­sis­tency of the first film. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they even­tu­ally all learn to “co- dad,” in some kind of har­mony.

“Daddy’s Home 2,” a Paramount Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for sug­ges­tive ma­te­rial and some lan­guage. Run­ning time: 100min­utes. ½


Mark Wahlberg, left, and Mel Gib­son star in the Paramount Pic­tures re­lease “Daddy’s Home 2.”

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