Review: As murder mysteries go, ‘A Haunting in Venice’ is deadly dull

It's packaged like a luxurious slice of old Hollywood goodness, yet it consistently falls short of that mantle.

click to enlarge An ominous figure arrives by gondola to attend Mrs. Reynolds' séance in 'A Haunting in Venice' - Photo via 20th Century Studios
Photo via 20th Century Studios
An ominous figure arrives by gondola to attend Mrs. Reynolds' séance in 'A Haunting in Venice'
For his third outing as famed fictional detective Hercule Poirot, director/actor Kenneth Branagh takes viewers to Venice, Italy, in the year 1947, once Poirot has retired, so there’s a time jump from his previous adventures, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile.”

Quick confession: I have seen neither "Orient Express" nor "Nile." Truth be told, I only wanted to see “A Haunting in Venice” for the tease of some potentially supernatural leanings.

I just as easily could have taken a nap.
A Haunting in Venice
2 out of 5 stars
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Sure, people die in the movie, but damn if this isn’t one deadly dull murder mystery.

Using Agatha Christie’s novel, “Hallowe’en Party,” as a springboard, Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green concoct the literal equivalent of a dark and stormy night and stage almost all the film’s action in a single location, a dilapidated and reportedly haunted palazzo, on Oct. 31.

As with the other two films in this franchise, “A Haunting in Venice” presents a “Love Boat”-style procession of known actors, including recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds, a famed spiritualist; Tina Fey as a seemingly fictional version of Christie herself, albeit with a different name; Kelly Reilly (still haven’t watched “Yellowstone”); Jamie Dornan (still trying to shake the stink of “Fifty Shades”); and up-and-coming child actor Jude Hill.

Part of the problem with this movie is Branagh’s decision to lean into Poirot’s desire to be left alone, which is exemplified by him acting like a supreme dick for the first part of the film. He literally employs a former cop to basically hip-check away the pleading families and desperate widows and widowers who show up daily to beg for Poirot’s help to solve crimes.

For two-thirds of the movie, Poirot kind of pouts around. He orders his bodyguard cop to lock everyone inside once the first body is discovered, which surprisingly everyone lets happen, even though neither Poirot nor his bodyguard cop have any real authority besides what people grant them. He doubts himself. He locks himself in a bathroom and hallucinates, which is almost interesting because it implies that his character might be accepting of the supernatural, which would honestly have made “A Haunting in Venice” a thousand times more engaging.

Alas, it’s all show. A slight game of smoke and mirrors.

By the time Poirot gets his Stella back and starts grooving, it’s a downhill sprint to mediocrity.

Watch the famed Hercule Poirot dissect the situation. Watch him deduce! Watch him preen and make nonsensical quips after regaining his mojo.

“You woke the bear from his sleep,” he tells Fey’s Ariadne Oliver. “You can’t complain when he tangos.”

What the hell does that even mean?

“A Haunting in Venice” is packaged like a luxurious slice of old Hollywood goodness, yet it consistently falls short of that mantle.

For reasons unknown, Branagh seems entirely comfortable trolling familiar waters and hitting anticipated beats instead of really digging into a lesser-known Christie title and finding something original and fresh to put on display.

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About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman is Tampa Bay's only movie critic and has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer—but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now...
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