The resurrection of Hercule Poirot at the hands (and fuzzy face) of director Kenneth Branagh was always intended to be a comforting double cup of Ovaltine for the olds and not whatever kids are drinking these days instead of Four Loko. Straight gasoline and hamster urine? I don’t know, Gen Z is rowdy y’all. Still, Death on the Nile is more Nyquil than “night out.” It’s painfully stuck between slyly silly and self-serious, between cheeky and culturally relevant, between just okay and real, real bad.
The cast is absolutely packed…with problematic performers… Armie Hammer, the cannibal cad, plays Simon Doyle. “Hilariously,” he’s introduced whilst doing lecherous sex dancing with Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) before doing lecherous sex dancing with Linnet Ridgeway. Linnet is played by Gal Gadot, whose cringy comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make her celeb-laden “Imagine” non-viral video seem positively well-thought out. The music for the aforementioned lecherous sex dancing is performed by Salmoe Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), who is managed by her daughter, Rosalie, who is played by Letitia Wright, who caught heat for a slew of anti-vax nonsense. Come on, that cast party had to be fun, right? “What were you canceled for?” is a drinking game best played with gasoline and hamster urine.
Anyway, Simon and the wealthy Linnet get hitched, making Jacqueline très pissy. She stalks them on their honeymoon along the Nile, which is somehow a group event? Maybe things were different in the first half of the 1900s, but “Come and join us on a vacation intended for intercourse” feels as icky as watching Armie Hammer sex dance. The bulk of the friends and family they assembled for the trip kinda hate Linnet, which would be more understandable if they had seen that “Imagine” video. Poirot (Branagh) is present for reasons that are revealed late, but mostly because his mustache tingles told him murder was on its way!
Did you know that this film opens with a mustache’s backstory? It may not be the first of its kind in cinematic history, but we can certainly pray that it is the last. It’s not just decisions like spending a solid 5-10 minutes of screentime and likely millions of dollars on revealing why Poirot decided to sport an eagle-shaped hairy lip cover. It’s that Branagh never establishes a sense of urgency or builds actual tension. The first two thirds of Death on the Nile feel like a greenscreen version of celebrities on holiday. And again, these are not celebrities you want to holiday with…
Not to critique Agatha Christie, as this isn’t exactly how she laid it out, but even the whodunnit feels more like “it was clearly youdammit” here. Even with a very solvable crime, it could have been solid, but Branagh’s need to make the whole affair “important” and “relevant” snuff out the opportunity to make it old-timey true-crimey fun. The few times jokes accidentally poke their way out from behind Poirot’s face bush feel more awkward than endearing. Honestly, that’s the biggest problem with the whole dull affair: It is toneless and toothless, neither truly tense nor trivial, and a tepid treatment of text.
Grade = C-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Ruth Maramis at FlixChatter Film Blog says “I’m not going to ignore elephant in the room when reviewing this movie, so let me just say that Hammer’s casting is the least of this film’s problems.”
Rendy Jones at Rendy’s Reviews says “It’s like seeing an all-around C student maintain their average for the entire year in school and taking pride in their mediocrity.”
Collier “CJ” Jennings at But Why Tho says “Between this and Red Notice, I’m starting to question the depths of Gadot’s talent. And that’s not even getting into the controversy surrounding Hammer.”