No, Kenneth Branagh, you didn't murder Death on the Nile, but you didn't bring it to scintillating life, either Yes, you have improved over your last venture into Agatha Christie territory, the lamentable 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. But in neither case have you attained the sizzle to which I assume your aspired.
Enough with the second-rate Poirot imitation.
I had hoped that Death on the Nile would provide the tonic that the big-screen needs at this doom-struck moment. Hardly awful but lacking in distinguishing spark, Death on the Nile turns out to be a middle-grade effort.
As was the case with Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh plays Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who has been solving crimes since Christie first introduced him in 1920.
Branagh's performance — headlined by a freight train of a Belgian accent — functions somewhat in the same way as paint splattered on a carefully composed canvas. Branagh makes sure that we know Poirot is an oddball, a sharp-eyed detective with a taste for fancy pastries.
None of this is to say that Death on the Nile lacks highlights, among them: Haris Zambarloukos's cinematography, Jim Clay's production design, and the costume design by Paco Delgado and Jobanjit Singh.
But such accouterments have a downside, as well. I'm not sure that Emma Mackey, as the passionate, insanely jealous Jacqueline de Bellefort, isn't upstaged by her dress (think neo-Cleopatra) at a key point in the movie.
Other highlights include Sophie Okonedo as an American jazz singer armed with a quick wit. She's accompanied by her niece (Letitia Wright), a young woman who manages the singer’s business affairs.
Christie stories typically confine a large number characters in a single location, in this case, a yacht that embarks from Karnak for the honeymoon celebration of Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), a wealthy beauty who has married Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer).
Before the story arrives in Egypt, we get London-based cabaret scenes in which Doyle seems to be totally consumed with passion for Mackey's Jacqueline de Bellefort. Passion or not, Doyle doesn't hesitate to drop de Bellefort for Ridgeway, thus setting off the jealousy that drives the plot.
De Bellefort hates being aced out by her best friend but she's far from the movie's only suspect.
The passenger manifest includes the British comedy team of Dawn French and Jenifer Saunders. Annette Bening plays mother to Bouc (Tom Bateman), Poirot's pal and a generally carefree fellow.
I could go on, but only at risk of turning this review into a roster.
Rather, I'll say that screenwriter Michael Green begins with a World War I flashback in which we learn Poirot's backstory, which includes lost love and an explanation of why he wears a mustache that qualifies as a special effect.
For a finale, all the movie's suspects gather in a single location so that Poirot can pick them apart, preying on their weaknesses, until he finally reveals whodunit.
No harm will come to those who see Death on the Nile and some may enjoy its throwback pleasures. But I was looking to be buoyed by watching these folks, many without virtue, bob wickedly on the Nile.
Instead, I found myself merely floating along.