Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Movies

Who killed all the fun in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’?

Kenneth Branagh’s somnambulant remake of Murder on the Orient Express is a murder mystery Agatha Christie never intended: Who killed her diabolical fun?

The answer is right under our noses, like the cake frosting mustache under his. Branagh’s portrayal of Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot is only slightly less disappointing than his direction of her material. Murder on the Orient Express lurches when it should creep, buckling under self-inflicted prestige.

Following a prologue presumably intended to be thrilling, Poirot climbs aboard the European luxury train the Orient Express where he soon meets future victim Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), a mobster with an even darker past, and his assistant Hector McQueen (Josh Gad, still not up to speed on this dramatic thing).

This is a yarn demanding a murderer’s row of actors playing murder suspects. Branagh’s cast includes two Oscar winners, four nominees including himself, a Tony winner, a Disney hero and a Jedi. They’re draped in period fashions to die for, crammed into ornate train cars with lots of mirrors and beveled glass for split-profile symbolism.

It’s a visual confection rivaling Branagh’s previous collaborations with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos on Thor and Cinderella. Like those films, Murder on the Orient Express looks prettier than it performs, the camera gliding without tension through hallways, or aimed downward at characters’ heads like a light fixture for some unknown, annoying reason.

Christie’s 1934 whodunnit is a mystery milestone but its infamous denouement is likely still unfamiliar enough to spoil. Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green stay true to Christie’s framework if not precise details. Yet the author’s classic twist becomes a rushed muddle in Branagh’s hands; Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version allowed the horror to breathe through clever editing.

Green’s screenplay frustrates viewers coming to especially see any actor except Branagh. Depp may have the most face time and he’s killed off early. Michelle Pfeiffer senses the project needs energy but shrieking isn’t it. Judi Dench retains her Academy Award dignity while Penelope Cruz’s wilts a bit. Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Leslie Odom Jr. get an incriminating scene or two, enough to make us think more would help the movie.

Murder on the Orient Express is prestige gone off the rails, a tony chunk of nothing that doesn’t beg the question whodunnit as much as why?

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Murder on the Orient Express

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr., Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman

Screenplay: Michael Green, based on the novel by Agatha Christie

Rating: PG-13; violence, mature themes

Running time: 114 min.

Grade: C-

   
Comments
At 50, Clearwater's real-life superhero is hanging up his super suit

At 50, Clearwater's real-life superhero is hanging up his super suit

CLEARWATER — For two decades, Dale Pople patrolled the streets feeding the homeless, helping old people carry groceries, extinguishing a car fire. He wore a red, yellow and blue Spandex outfit with an SH emblem: "Super Hero." Now, Clearwater&...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/24/18
Gilda Radner is remembered in her own words in the documentary ‘Love, Gilda’

Gilda Radner is remembered in her own words in the documentary ‘Love, Gilda’

With the aid of rare audio recordings, the late Saturday Night Live comic force Gilda Radner narrates the story of her life in the new documentary Love, Gilda, opening Friday at Tampa Theatre.But it wasn’t easy initially for director Lisa D’Apolito t...
Published: 09/20/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls,’ ‘Life Itself,’ locally filmed ‘The Favorite’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls,’ ‘Life Itself,’ locally filmed ‘The Favorite’

NOW PLAYING: THE FAVORITEFilmed in Pinellas County, the faith-based movie The Favorite continues its run in local theaters this week. It follows two brothers (Matthew Fahey and Luke Bernard, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on his own life) rec...
Published: 09/19/18
‘Smokey and the Bandit’ returns to theaters today, honoring Burt Reynolds

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ returns to theaters today, honoring Burt Reynolds

For the next nine days, AMC Theaters will take you east bound and down once more as the late Burt Reynolds’ iconic 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit returns to theaters in the Tampa Bay area.The theater chain announced it will be bringing Bandit, Fred,...
Published: 09/12/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Predator,’ ‘A Simple Favor,’ ‘White Boy Rick,’ ‘Unbroken’ sequel

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Predator,’ ‘A Simple Favor,’ ‘White Boy Rick,’ ‘Unbroken’ sequel

OPENING FRIDAY: The Predator A young boy (Jacob Tremblay) inadvertently prompts the return to Earth of the now genetically enhanced killing creatures. With Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown. Direc...
Published: 09/12/18
Glenn Close is a six-time Oscar nominee. With ‘The Wife,’ she deserves to finally win.

Glenn Close is a six-time Oscar nominee. With ‘The Wife,’ she deserves to finally win.

When The Wife first appeared on the festival circuit last year, the call went up almost immediately: This, finally, might be the movie to win Glenn Close the Oscar that has eluded her over the course of six — count-’em — six nominations.The movie is ...
Updated one month ago
Burt Reynolds, who described Tampa as 'my other hometown,' dies at 82

Burt Reynolds, who described Tampa as 'my other hometown,' dies at 82

Burt Reynolds, whose blend of Southern-fried machismo and wise-guy playfulness launched his worldwide celebrity in the 1970s, first as a freewheeling chat-show guest, then as a nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine and finally as a Hollywood actio...
Updated one month ago
Oscars’ popular film award is postponed after backlash

Oscars’ popular film award is postponed after backlash

The organization that bestows the Academy Awards says it is suspending plans to award a new Oscar for popular films amid widespread backlash to the idea. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it will further study plans for the categor...
Updated one month ago
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Peppermint,’ ‘The Nun,’ ‘God Bless the Broken Road’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Peppermint,’ ‘The Nun,’ ‘God Bless the Broken Road’

OPENING FRIDAY:THE NUNA troubled priest (Demian Bichir, above) and a novitiate sent by the Vatican to investigate a suicide and an abbey in Romania are confronted by the same malevolent force from The Conjuring 2. With Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, ...
Updated one month ago
What’s in theaters Labor Day weekend: ‘Operation Finale,’ ‘Searching,’ ‘Kin’

What’s in theaters Labor Day weekend: ‘Operation Finale,’ ‘Searching,’ ‘Kin’

NOW PLAYING: OPERATION FINALE Oscar Isaac plays an Israeli agent tasked with spiriting Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley, right) out of Argentina to stand trial for war crimes 15 years after World War II. The case was the subject of a...
Updated one month ago