Director Marlin Darrah’s An Egypt Affair has all the sense and aesthetic of a bygone adventure novel. And despite an expected overindulgence in melodrama and contrived plotting, the film is still quite amusing. However, what tilts Will Patching and Eric Weinstock’s screenplay from so-bad-it’s-good to eye-rolling is how starkly derivative it is. Save for the thematic focus of an affair, or rather many interlocking affairs versus murder, this is bizarrely similar to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to the point of near-simulacrum.
Anyone who has seen Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation will recognize the general situation. Two couples, purportedly allies but clearly hiding many fevered deceptions, take to the Nile on a romantic steamboat cruise. Unbeknownst to them, they will be joined by another couple whose presence unravels and reveals each character’s schemes.
An Egypt Affair was shot entirely on location in Egypt, along the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. The cinematography is commensurately marvelous, especially when focusing on the architecture of the surrounding locales. Every shot has a tangible materiality to it, creating a wonderful degree of immersion for the viewer. In addition, every character in the ensemble is well cast, bringing a grounded feel to their personalities. All of these features combine with a fun and cocksure pace, providing the film with a strong sense of impetus.
“…take to the Nile on a romantic steamboat cruise…they will be joined by another couple…”
But while the film has a lot to enjoy, there is almost no aspect of the narrative itself that doesn’t feel refurbished. Every beat is so predictable, from the plot threads to how the characters fit together into the tapestry, that one can (and will) accurately guess who is being duplicitous and precisely how early in the film said secrets are revealed. Furthermore, the characters frequently show their malignant intentions in such obvious ways that their personalities are rendered flat and often unbelievable. Unfortunately, this shatters the necessary sense of mystery and anticipation that adventure films (and novels) demand to be engaging.
While being a rehash is no grave offense for, effectively, a travel channel movie, it often becomes unbearable when it can be traced nearly 1:1 to a story as well known as Death on the Nile. And though it is also no noteworthy crime to use a well-regarded novel to inspire another, even something as pulpy as An Egypt Affair, the result needs to be tweaked enough to be original in its own right. Any aspect of the film must stand by itself, and some element of the plot should offer a surprise to audiences.
Fans of the genre, and especially fans of Marlin Darrah’s body of work, will undoubtedly look past these flaws and revel in every escapade An Egypt Affair has to offer. But newcomers to the genre will be put off by the sloppy storytelling and the inconsistent script despite the film’s buoyant demeanor. Certainly, in the directorial department, this hits all the necessary marks. However, the lazy copy-and-paste writing and lack of narrative polish impede what could have been a universally enjoyable film.
"…hits all the necessary marks."