"Can we please stop with the remakes of Murder on the Orient Express?" I ask upon exiting Kenneth Branagh's fatally tepid new reading of the Agatha Christie classic.
For my money, David Suchet already nailed the most satisfying Hercule Poirot we're ever likely to know. In the British television series Agatha Christie's Poirot (which aired on PBS in the States), if not the wholly unnecessary 2010 movie, Suchet's Belgian detective came to us as his own complicated loner — sly, prissy, compulsive, sexually ambiguous and with a thoroughly earned tragic vision of humankind, yet full of compassion for its individual membership. When Suchet's Poirot insisted he was happiest when alone, we believed him. But coming from Branagh's Poirot, there is room for doubt — and not only because his lips can barely move beneath a mustache so humongous it curls around corners, possibly in an attempt at a getaway.
That hairy party favor — with Branagh behind it, incessantly cracking wise and foolish — leads the action. We meet Poirot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a scenic locale that may or may not connect to later events. For now it's an excuse for the smirky private eye to launch into a lame gag about rabbis, imams and priests.
Then it's on to Istanbul, where the self-professed "greatest detective in the world" boards the famously deluxe locomotive for a hard-earned break among bejeweled toffs moping about in richly varnished wooden carriages with to-die-for light fixtures.