WRITER-DIRECTOR Rian Johnson returns to the detective genre, which served him well for his award-winning 2005 debut feature Brick, to pay loving tribute to Agatha Christie with a tongue-in-cheek country house whodunnit.

Knives Out brings together a starry cast of prime suspects including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Michael Shannon and cleverly conceals the murderer’s identity until a classic final act revelation.

Johnson’s script lovingly embraces the tropes of a murder mystery while fishing for red herrings, assembling the accused for a private detective’s pithy summation replete with overlapping flashbacks.

Curiously, the film’s weakest link is the brilliant mind in charge of the case – a dashingly tailored sleuth played by Daniel Craig.

It’s a self-consciously showy turn a la Hercule Poirot without the Belgian’s psychological and emotional complexity.

Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) presides over a motley crew of dysfunctional relatives, who have their beady eyes on his vast fortune.

The cantankerous old coot invites his kin to an 85th birthday party at his large mansion but festivities are cut short by arguments and recriminations.

Later that same night, after doting carer Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) has given Harlan his medication, the novelist apparently commits suicide by slitting his throat with a ceremonial dagger.

Detective Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) attend the scene to deduce the chain of events leading to the homeowner’s grim demise.

Quixotic private detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) hovers in the background, closely observing family members as he begins to paint a very different picture of Harlan’s final moments.

Knives Out enjoys pulling the rug from under us as characters’ ulterior motives are exposed.

Pieces of an elaborate puzzle slot satisfyingly into place as the ensemble cast have fun with their colourful roles, concealing deviousness and greed behind angelic smiles.

Many suspects fall from grace with a thud but Johnson’s entertaining picture stays firmly upright.

RATING: 7.5/10