Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The rich and glamorous Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) just married handsome himbo Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). The couple honeymoons in Egypt, and on the surface, it’s all perfect: the attractive newlyweds radiate wealth and status, caught in the spell of love at first sight, everything dipped in crisp neutral tones. But their travel party happens to include an assortment of help, relatives, and former lovers, each carrying some form of veiled spite for the married couple. The most volatile of this group is party-crasher Jacqueline de Bellefort (Sex Education’s Emma Mackey), Simon’s former fiance and Linnet’s former friend. To quell their own paranoia that Jacqueline has tagged along to exact revenge, Linnet and Simon also invite crack detective Hercule Poirot to join them for their celebratory cruise among the pyramids.

Then comes the first death on the Nile, and the Doyles’ honeymoon unravels into a hellish murder mystery.

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel of the same name ticks all the boxes of a detective story: suspicious characters, shocking deaths, clues, alibis, twists and turns, and, finally, the Big Reveal. Everything else about Death on the Nile, however, had me questioning why it was even made.

The film has an all-star cast that unfortunately includes a bold amount of problematic actors (most notably: Letitia Wright, Gadot, and Hammer). But everyone performs well in their roles, with particular mention to Mackey, an unrecognizable Russell Brand, and comedic relief duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. Of course, the true hero is director/producer/star Kenneth Branagh as Detective Poirot. It almost helps to see Death on the Nile as a passion project for him rather than an attempt at a masterpiece. He’s excellent in look, delivery, and character subtlety, carrying a film that thinks it’s better than it is.

The entire movie has a certain glow to it—one maybe aiming to emulate the Gatsby-esque wealth and status of the world the characters inhabit—but the effect comes off rather poorly, instead highlighting the sweat and green screen-ness of it all. Sweeping shots of the River Nile, endless deserts, and breathtaking monuments might at first make you crave a trip to Egypt, but with snake charmers and poor Brown children waving from the Nile’s banks, the orientalism piles on at a rate that’s hard to stomach. Emotional investment does not come easily, and it’s filled to the brim with heavy-handed musings about Love that never really land, probably taken directly from Christie’s text but delivered by actors so well-known and contemporary that it muddies the sense of historical period.

These are symptoms of adapting something written in the 1930s; it’s important to honor the classics, but I left the theater wondering what this $90 million project brought to the table compared to an inventive and contemporary whodunnit like 2019’s Knives Out. As a whole, Death on the Nile has flaws that outweigh its old-fashioned charm. PG-13, 127 min.

Wide release in theaters.