'See How They Run' review: Breezy whodunit spoofs Agatha Christie
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” quips the opening narration in Tom George’s gleefully silly and irreverent whodunit “See How They Run,” a simplistic caper with enough heft from the stylish ensemble, lead by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, to get it over the usual whodunit narrative bumps. Nothing in “See How They Run” elevates it beyond a watchable three-star picture, but its scant run-time makes for a breezy watch and the repertoire between the drunken, recluse inspector played by Rockwell pairs nicely with Ronan’s bubbly and inherently gullible constable. George, directing his first major motion picture, spoofs the Agatha Christie genre with ease, complete with over-exaggerated close-ups, a brooding score, split screen testimonials, and dramatic tracking shots.
Even if George’s directing sensibilities feel inspired by the likes of Wes Anderson’s vigorous and twee attention to detail, “See How They Run” uses its conventional plot as an advantage, poking fun at itself whenever given the chance. There’s plenty of material for George to satirize, but his main ruse is Christie’s classic “The Mousetrap,” which just as the film opens is finishing up its 100th theatrical performance on London’s West End circa 1953 and on the fast track for a cinematic adaptation. In real life, Christie had put a stipulation in her “Mousetrap” contract that no film version could be made until six months after its run-on West End, the perfect motive for someone to axe the play’s director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody, who also narrates and appears in flashbacks).
Enter Rockwell’s ruffled and sleepy Inspector Stoppard and Ronan’s Constable Stalker sent over from Scotland Yard to investigate the murder. Here, Mark Chappell’s meta screenplay wastes no time lining up the suspect list: an array of zany and wacky characters with different means and justification, some are even based on real-life figures. There’s Petula ‘Choo’ Spencer (Ruth Wilson), a hot-shot producer eager to make “The Mousetrap” film a reality; Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson, who nails the iconic actor’s voice to a tee) and his co-star Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda). Also on the radar is movie mogul John Woolfe (Reece Shearsmith) who was the actual producer of the Humphrey Bogart classic “The African Queen” his wife Edana Roney (Sian Clifford) and pompous screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo – underused, though funny when showcased).
Watching these characters interact ends up being more engaging than where the mystery eventually leads, a reveal that’s less than satisfying. There’s no last second twist or shocking revelation: it just happens, and we move on. Still, the journey to get there, especially on the heels of Rockwell and Ronan’s coy interactions as they both dive headfirst into solving the case (one more so than the other), is worth the hike. “See How They Run” can feel a little too on the nose at times and self-referential for its own good (a character will make a proclamation and then it’ll happen seconds later). But George finds a way to make the material his own with plenty of callbacks to Christie’s body of work alongside hilarious farcical elements like a revolving rotation of doors opening and closing and quick cuts in the vein of Edgar Wright.
The opening narration eludes “See How They Run” won’t buck the trend of previous whodunits, setting the expectation for what’s to come and it proves rather prophetic. But while “See How They Run” could have used more punch and fleshed out the suspects more than brief interludes, it gets the job done and delivers a serviceable comedic caper that’s delightful as it is genuine. If Christie were around today, she’d be laughing too.
SEE HOW THEY RUN opens in theaters Friday, September 16th.