“It’s a thriller. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Adrien Brody’s Leo Köpernick says so in his narration that opens “See How They Run,” an often meta and self-aware whodunnit in a thriller bound for theaters this week.
He might be right, but that doesn’t mean “See How They Run” has nothing to offer.
Sadly, however, its greatest strength is its table-setting prologue in which Leo – a Hollywood director hired to make a big-screen adaptation of mystery writer Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”, already a long-running play dated to 1950s London and still running today — sets forth the conventions of the genre. He finds it all disappointing.
“But what do I know?” he says. “The Limeys swallow it.”
The prologue, as Leo suggests to everyone in the genre, ends with a murder: his own – a fact we might not have revealed if the film’s trailer hadn’t been so cheerfully done.
Who could have wanted Leo dead? There’s no shortage of suspects, starting with the film’s screenwriter, Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), who creatively confronted him.
Or could it have been film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith, “High-Rise”)? Famously, the rights holder of a “Mousetrap” adaptation can’t make a movie until six months after the play closes. Could a behind-the-scenes murder lead to a final curtain-raiser?
This is just the tip of the iceberg of people of interest to Scotland Yard detectives on the case, Sam Rockwell’s grizzled and cynical Inspector Stoppard and the enthusiastic but inexperienced Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Other key players include actor Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson, “Where the Crawdads Sing”), who, like Woolf, is based on a real person; Dickie’s wife, Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda, “I May Destroy You”), who, like him, is a cast member of “The Mousetrap”; Dennis (Charlie Cooper, “This Country”), a particularly tall usher who’s never far from the action; and Petula “Choo” Spencer (Ruth Wilson, “His Dark Materials”), who is directing the theatrical production.
More characters will be introduced later in the story, as the twists take the characters who have survived thus far to a remarkable country estate on a sensationally snowy night.
Written, more or less adequately, by Mark Chappell (“Flaked”) and directed by Tom George (“This Country”) – making his directorial debut and using just the right amount of camera movement to keep things alive – “See How They Run” tries to get much of its crackle from the mismatched pair of Stoppard and Stalker. However, while Ronan gives it his all, the bright-eyed, impatient Stalker – she’s prone to jumping to conclusions , ready to arrest someone for the murder at the slightest hint of guilt — isn’t really what the talented “Lady Bird” and “Little Women” star does best. And Rockwell, who can be pretty good at some roles (“Vice,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Richard Jewell”), doesn’t feel invested in this one at all. It’s a slightly sleepy performance.
On the other hand, Oyelowo (“Selma”, “Queen of Katwe”) is good at everything, so it’s not really surprising that he adds something to this menagerie.
The star, however, is Brody (“Midnight in Paris,” “The French Dispatch”), so it’s concerning when, you know, his character dies so early in the proceedings. Luckily, we get a reasonable helping of the feather-ruffling Köpernick through flashbacks that fill in some of the gray areas of this mystery.
Be aware that solving it on your own will be difficult, disappointing, as you likely won’t have all the information you need until a late-game reveal. On the plus side, other disclosures along the way help you stay invested in the case.
Filmed during the pandemic shutdown in theaters and hotels across the West End during the pandemic shutdown, when fantasy locations would likely not be available otherwise, ‘See How They Run’ is a perfectly enjoyable pastime but little more.
At the end of the increasingly bloody day, he’s unlikely to have the power of ‘The Mousetrap’ – will this thing EVER shut down for good? — and its famous secret twist ending.
That said, it might be the closest thing you’ll get to a movie adaptation of this one for a while.
“See How They Run” is rated PG-13 for some violent/gory imagery and a sexual reference. Duration: 1h38.