'Murder on the Orient Express' gives new depth to 'meh!'
By Martha K. Baker
Seeing the magnificent cast list may draw you in. Enjoying a classic mystery, even when you know who dun it, may draw you in. But after watching Murder on the Orient Express, you may feel discounted, for the Kenneth Branagh production has all the oomph of an airless whoopee cushion.
The cast is, indeed, remarkable. The movie, updated from the 1974 version, is based on an Agatha Christie novel. The 13 people in the line-up include Dame Judi Dench as the countess and Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary. Leslie Odom Jr. stars as Dr. Arbuthnot and Penélope Cruz is Pilar, Derek Jacobi is the valet, Josh Gad is the secretary MacQueen, and Johnny Depp is his boss, Mr. Ratchett. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the cougar, Caroline Hubbard. Willem Dafoe as somebody or other. Branagh rises from the director's chair to play Hercule Poirot, his signature mustache a facial wonder.
What is not a wonder is Branagh's acting, flaccid at best. He is not bested by the supporting cast, each of whom phones in her or his performance on nothing more modern than a flip phone.
Worth watching, since the perps are well known to most, is the photography directed by Haris Zambarioukos. Overhead shots inside the train, Dafoe shot through beveled glass, views of snowy mountains from above and beside, actors framed by rounded arches, including the tunnel that gathers all together for Poirot to conclude -- these are all worth looking at.
Unless you're a major fan of Christie, you won't know if Michael Green's script expands on or quotes her words, but the plot itself with its veritable riot of clues is a bit of a mystery. Murder on the Orient Express drags, which is good if you need a nap, but not so good if you seek excitement and mystery.