Sam Rockwell leads a kooky London murder investigation.
See How They Run hits theaters on Sept. 16, 2022.
Tom George attempts to balance two films throughout See How They Run. One is a snippy spoof comedy that disassembles and lovingly mocks whodunits solved by the likes of Hercule Poirot and Sidney Prescott. The other? A deathly serious Agatha Christie mystery worth mentioning alongside Murder on the Orient Express or Identity. Mark Chappell’s screenplay aims to meld satire with suspense for the best of both worlds, falling back on rudimentary humor with the biggest winks and pushiest nudges. See How They Run won’t always keep audience sleuths on their toes, but benefits from its brisk 90(ish) minutes given the surface appeal that can be dryly entertaining with a wry English novelty.
The 1950s period dramedy intensifies as Christie’s The Mousetrap takes West End ticketholders by storm and theater impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) signs a movie deal with producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith). Cast and crew celebrate their milestone on the night of The Moustetrap’s ceremonious 100th performance — until a body is found on stage. In attendance are actors like young Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and talent like screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), all of whom become suspects for Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). The show must go on, but at what cost to public safety?
See How They Run fancies itself a cheeky comedian when it comes to bashing the structure of whodunits, prominently from Cocker-Norris’ snobby literary pompousness and director Leo Köpernick’s (Adrien Brody) boozy American sensibilities. They bicker about quality and sophistication in cinema as Cocker-Norris hisses at the thought of flashbacks — immediately after a flashback exposition dump. Köpernick might then be ridiculed for his suggested action scene idea, which later becomes a pivotal sequence in See How They Run. George approaches spoofing not unlike The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, wherein characters mock genre structures before executing the very architectures worth roasting. It’s not always an impenetrable method given how on the nose these gags become, then saved by the charisma of the film’s all-star cast.
Sam Rockwell’s gin-soaked investigator sets a hungover tone that is not mirrored by any supporting castmates. Ronan’s eager-beaver rookie jumps to every conclusion and gawks at the West End allure of The Mousetrap’s ensemble. David Oyelowo argues about artistic integrity as a high-strung wordsmith with auteur egotism, Reece Shearsmith bathes in drama as a money-hungry producer, and Harris Dickinson charms the dead awake with his leading-man smile. Rockwell’s performance grounds suspense while everyone else overplays their characters with tactical intent to ensure anyone remains a suspect. It’s odd seeing Rockwell not play zanier given prior role choices, but not once Ronan’s mentee starts pestering her senior officer, and Rockwell’s allowed to wear his exhaustion outwardly.
On with the show goes See How They Run, a good-natured commentary about Hollywood practices and parlor mysteries that begins with a dead body. George seems inspired by Wes Anderson in vibrant background shot compositions, with a zip-zappy jazz score that keeps rhythm, and when empowering eccentric characters. See How They Run is a bit more deflated than Anderson’s prized titles; still, similarities introduce acceptable quirk into a whodunit that thinks itself brighter than its obvious spoof targets. Where something like Cabin in the Woods laces meta zingers into an impossibly clever original story, See How They Run pokes fun at low-hanging corpses and procedural motions that revel in theatergoer expectations.
Production designer Amanda McArthur deserves recognition because See How They Run boasts an exceptional presence. From the sizzling red neon signs flashing “The Mousetrap” above theater entryways to Köpernick’s bottles-everywhere suite at The Savoy Hotel, cinematographer Jamie Ramsay has period richness to highlight. Painted show posters pop behind Stalker as she stands enamored by her entertainment surroundings, while Christie’s mansion fights snowy chilliness with warmer fireplace views. Even Stoppard’s miniature sky-blue automobile adds an immersive touch, as everything about the unfolding case remains pleasantly picturesque to the eyes.