I’m a sucker for a good who-dun-it. The only thing better is a comedy who-dun-it. I’m a huge fan of the cult classic, Clue and the more recent Knives Out. All of the characters featured in those two films are very well thought out. Each one is totally unique and have broad personalities. They are highly character-driven and fun. So, I was looking forward to, See How They Run which from the trailers, looked like it would be more of the same. Sadly, it’s not.
There’s a really good idea here, and though the storyline is pretty convoluted, it’s still pretty good. But it’s buried underneath too many characters, many of which don’t appear to have any motive to kill. The title suggests that this will be a lively and energetic romp. Instead, it’s sluggish and at times, downright boring. But worst of all, it’s not funny.
Some scenes could really tickle the funny bone if reworked. There are a lot of good lines here, but Director Tom George chose to go with a lot more restraint. That in itself is not a bad idea. Comedy is very subjective and knowing how far you can go for a laugh and when to pull back is difficult. Perhaps if the actors played their parts with deadly seriousness but with a slight wink to the audience, See How They Run could have been hilarious. Instead, the characters come off as if they would rather be somewhere else. Nobody seems to be having any fun. It’s just so sad because this should have and could have been made a lot better.
Although See How They Run is a fictional story, many elements of it are real. At the center of the story is the very real Agatha Christie play, The Mousetrap. It has been playing at the St. Martin’s Theatre in London since 1952 and is known for being one of the longest running plays in history. In this story, the fictional movie director Leo Kopernick (Adrian Brody) has been tagged to direct the movie version of play. However, under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months. The movie studio is looking forward to the play taking a bow for the last time so that they can get to work.
Not only is Leo a terrible director, he’s a terrible person. Although he’s never read or even seen the play, he wants to make sweeping changes much to the chagrin of Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), the script writer. But it’s not just Mervyn that he’s ticked off. Rubbing people the wrong way appears to be his specialty and this ultimately costs him his life backstage. Sadly, it is perhaps the best scene in the whole movie
Established Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the very green Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) are assigned to the case. The come to the theatre to find the auditorium filled with suspects and the dead movie director on stage with his tongue cut out. (Don’t worry, they don’t show anything.) Among the suspects are Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickison). This is another real element to the movie. The real Richard Attenborough was the play’s original star. He later became a movie director and even starred in Jurassic Park many years later.
John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) is also based on a real person. He’s the film’s producer who is cheating on his wife with his secretary. And there is Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson), the stage manager of the play who can’t be bothered by such things as murder as she has an elderly mother (Ania Marson) to take care of. Even Agatha Christie herself (Shirley Henderson) shows up, but they aren’t given much to do. And there are a bunch of other characters, but they aren’t really important and they take up way too much space in the story.
That leaves Rockwell and Ronan to do a lot of the heavy lifting here, and for the most part, they do a good job. Inspector Stoppard is a seasoned veteran who knows to look and evaluate a number of clues before he accuses anyone of murder. Constable Stalker on the other hand contrasts that as she continually jumps to conclusions and wants to arrest everyone she meets. They make for a great comedic duo.
If you go to see this movie with low expectations, you just might enjoy yourself. And if not, you can always re-watch Clue or Knives Out on Amazon Prime.
Main image: Searchlight Pictures
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.