1 of 5 | Kenneth Branagh and Tina Fey star in "A Haunting in Venice." Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Kenneth Branagh's third Agatha Christie movie, A Haunting in Venice, in theaters Friday, is as lavish as his Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. It's a bit more predictable too but still fun to watch.
In 1947, Hercule Poirot (Branagh) has retired to Venice. An old friend, mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) ask Poirot to debunk psychic Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), who was so convincing even Oliver couldn't figure out her trick.
Poirot arrives at the Drake mansion, calls a palazzo in Italy, for the seance and meets the members of the Drake family and their staff. Alicia Drake (Rowan Robinson) died by suicide and Mrs. Reynolds promises to contact her.
Reynolds is the perfect foil for Poirot because they both have the utmost conviction in opposing beliefs, spiritual and logical respectively. When Reynolds purportedly channels Alicia, she accuses someone in the room of murder but it's not clear whom.
So, Poirot is there to solve Alicia's murder, and a few more murders that occur that night to cover it up. Poirot is also attacked, so the unexplained occurrences of the night could be attributed to his head injury. It's not quite as ambiguous as perhaps Branagh intended.
While the suggestions of haunting add a few twists to the usual whodunnit, A Haunting in Venice soon settles back into a series of interviews Poirot conducts with suspects. This time, Oliver tags along with Poirot, trying to figure out his methods while he figures out the murder.
There is plenty of motive to go around as all the suspects hate each other for different reasons. Alica's mother, Rowena (Kelly Reilly) hates her daughter's fiance Maxime (Kyle Allen) for breaking her heart.
Dr. Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) blames himself for not being able to save Alicia and for his experiences in World War II. Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin) was Alicia's caretaker and hates Mrs. Reynolds for dredging up traumatic memories.
Alas, it doesn't take Poirot to figure out this mystery but it's still fun watching him root out the masterminds. Branagh gives the film a different atmosphere in light of the supernatural suggestions.
As director, Branagh films Haunting in Venice at disconcerting angles, sometimes even above or below the characters to create a sense of unease. Photography of the Venice canals flooding on a stormy night is also striking.
In the end, the Poirot formula overpowers any of the new elements Branagh tries to introduce. But, the tried and true Poirot mystery still delivers the joy of seeing Poirot pick apart A-list actors playing memorable characters.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.