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'Death on the Nile' review: Hit the theaters or wait to stream Kenneth Branagh's latest?

Kenneth Branagh's follow-up to 'Murder on the Orient Express' should satisfy the whodunit crime fanatic, but what one element hinders its potential?
Credit: 20th Century Studios

ST. LOUIS — Whodunit mysteries are very popular with audiences because they go down easy and always spark a discussion on the drive home. When I left the Galleria 6 Cinemas after watching “Usual Suspects” with my dad, all I could do was load up on questions before we got to the parking garage. Who? What? How come? It was him?!!

Kenneth Branagh knows this formula better than most. After striking the hot iron ($352 million box office take) back in 2017 with “Murder on The Orient Express,” he’s back with a sequel to that tale, “Death on the Nile.” After solving the crime of the century on the train last time, Branagh’s Hercule Poirot finds himself on vacation--if only for a short while.

It’s not long before a young couple (Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer) meet and soon ask a favor of the famous detective Poirot, and the new investigation kicks off swiftly. The usual powder keg full of suspects collide with the charming yet perceptive mind of Poirot, and he disarms just about every one of them with his patient ability to detect even the tiniest ounce of peculiar behavior.

And the actor-filmmaker hybrid relishes the role every second he’s onscreen, mastering the dry yet snapping tone of Agatha Christie’s detective. If Sherlock Holmes’ weaknesses were booze and drugs, Poirot’s revolved around sweet treats and a cane that could stomp out a poisonous snake.

But the poison in Branagh’s “Nile” is Hammer, and his relentless acting stammer. Outside of an early well-choreographed and lively dancing sequence, he’s as interesting as Subway turkey breast right before closing time. He has the looks and the build, but he doesn’t have the soul to inhabit any vital role. It’s like a Ken doll without the batteries. Along with his offscreen legal drama (in short, he's a real creep), Hammer’s acting ability still hasn’t recovered from “The Lone Ranger.”

So, he walks into another joint where Johnny Depp used to play or was playing with him, and he buries its potential to be great.

Also, Gadot’s screen time in a non-hero role is far too short, and I just wanted to hit Russell Brand’s doctor with something hard for the entire running time. His beard isn’t fake, but it looks horribly fake and a seething snivel isn’t what we call acting. I thought he left acting a while back to rest his career atop a furry wall. He adds little. Annette Bening gives a one-note performance.

Only Branagh and his trusty mustache (its origin tale revealed in the opening scene) truly carry the torch for the cast. Even when the film’s pacing gets too loose in a snooze second act and Michael Green’s screenplay grows a little extra convoluted, you still hang onto the mystery due to the seasoned lead.

It’s too bad Hammer shows back up in the finale to cry like an underfed trust fund kid in the film’s most important scene. But the ultimate resolution is equally satisfying and entertaining in “Death on the Nile,” a murder whodunit that succeeds just enough to be watchable due to its director and star.

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