Director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) has procured the leading role of famous literary inspector Hercule Poirot for himself. A former television film, based on Agatha Christie’s most popular mystery novel, “Murder on the Orient Express” gets the big screen treatment with a cast as long as the train. There are ensembles where the cast works as functioning parts of the cinematic adventure, here this multitude of famous faces only distract, none given the opportunity to become more than a background character. This remake moves at a slow pace once the interrogation begins, when the train stops, the momentum also comes to a halt. This whodunit isn’t actually a whodunit, which offers up the biggest disappointment of all.
World-renowned inspector Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has left Jerusalem, following another successfully solved case, on his way to London, by way of the extravagant Orient Express. What was supposed to be a relaxing cross-country journey, turns into a murder mystery, as one of the passengers is found stabbed to death in their compartment. “Someone here is a murderer,” Poirot announces as he begins interrogating the guests who all seem to have a secret and one common connection. Poirot, known for his attention to detail, finds more clues than he has explanations for. With a derailed train stuck in the middle of a snowstorm, the inspector must solve the mystery before their journey continues.
There is little that works here, mainly the script that doesn’t know how to incorporate the ensemble beyond flashy cameos. Branagh casts an eclectic group of international actors from respected favorites to franchise heroes in an attempt to capture an audience that runs the gamut of ticket buyers. Like a chief selecting a bunch of their favorite foods, only to realize none of the individual selections complement one particular meal. The inside compartments are not particularly memorable nor exciting as films shot on trains go. “Murder on the Orient Express” doesn’t have a particular style or look about it, beyond the famous mustache which seems to have gotten more attention to detail than the script itself.
Branagh makes changes to Christie’s original story and subsequent versions, but they are not the right changes. Of all the projects Branagh could have lent his talent toward, both on screen and off, this feels like a peculiar choice that’s about as insignificant of a debut in November as I can remember. I found the film dull, boring and tedious, but it’s the ending that really knocks the whole thing off the tracks. Michelle Pfeiffer continues her cinematic comeback after “mother!” but this is another misstep which unfortunately reminds fans why the vivacious actress isn’t an Oscar winner. The rest of the cast either plays off former character stereotypes or is just relegated to background ornamental decoration.
Final thought — This murder mystery remake is a train wreck of miscalculation and underutilized potential.