Evil Under the Sun [1982]

Mostly for Poirot completists and admirers of then-trendy, all-star ensemble casts from the 1970s and early '80s, Evil Under the Sun finds Peter Ustinov in his second outing as Agatha Christie's famous Belgian detective (three years after 1978's Death on the Nile). As the title promises, the action this time takes place on an Adriatic island (though Christie fans will surely balk at the switch from the novel's setting on the English coast), where a famous stage star (Diana Rigg) is murdered, and the list of likely suspects is unusually high. The parade of legendary performers--Roddy McDowall, James Mason, Sylvia Miles, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin--plus Ustinov's energetic performance keep things hopping. But Anthony Shaffer's lazy screenplay and director Guy Hamilton's superficial approach nudge everything (action, characters, tone) toward campy, near-parody, with bitchy sniping, tacky costumes, and an obligatory soundtrack of Cole Porter tunes. It's only in the last lap that the film transcends such obviousness and finds its way back to the glories of detective fiction. --Tom Keogh

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