[Screen It]


(2022) (Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A detective tries to solve a murder related to a fictional murder mystery whodunit.

It's 1953 and Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap" is enjoying a successful run in London's West End theater district with actors Richard "Dickie'' Attenborough (HARRIS DICKINSON) and his wife Sheila Sim (PEARL CHANDA) among those in the cast of the whodunit thriller. With the show celebrating its 100th performance, it's about to be made into a movie, with sleazy Hollywood filmmaker Leo Köpernic (ADRIEN BRODY) set to direct.

But when he ends up murdered, it's up to alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (SAM ROCKWELL) to solve the case, although he's been saddled with young and over-eager Constable Stalker (SAOIRSE RONAN) as his rookie partner. Beyond Richard and Sheila, the suspects -- or potential future victims -- include producer John Woolf (REECE SHEARSMITH), screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (DAVID OYELOWO), theater impresario Petula Spencer (RUTH WILSON), and even Dennis the usher (CHARLIE COOPER).

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

People inside and outside of the film industry obviously have different meanings of what makes a film successful. For the studios, it's all about box office revenue and, if applicable, end-of-the-season award love. For me, it's all about whether any such offering makes me feel some sort of emotion on a heightened level.

A comedy should make me laugh -- a lot -- while horror films should give me the chills and leave me unsettled afterward. Action films should be exciting and get my heart racing, romances should do the same -- albeit differently -- and feel-good flicks better leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Failure to do so leaves me disappointed and often feeling like the opportunity has been wasted.

Such is the case with "See How They Run," a wannabe Wes Anderson sort of quirky dramedy where the quirk rarely hits the mark, the comedy barely elicits laughs, and the meta elements of poking fun at Agatha Christie murder-mystery whodunits aren't as clever, smart, or numerous as they should be for an attempt such as this.

The concept -- as concocted by scribe Mark Chappell -- isn't bad and is, in fact, fairly clever in its construction. The "what if" scenario revolves around the notion of what would happen should a murder occur as related to a production of an Agatha Christie story -- in this case, "Mousetrap" -- and then follows the same sort of story where a detective tries to whittle down who the perp might be, all while in danger of becoming a victim himself. And all while poking some wrap-around, snarky, loving, and hopefully quirky fun at the genre and storytelling format. Holy meta caper mystery, Batman.

It all begins with a narrator chiding the usual Christie format, only to have us then learn that he's the murder victim, one Leo Köpernic (Adrien Brody). It's 1953, and "Mousetrap" is celebrating its 100th show in London's West End. That success has resulted in theater impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) selling the rights to film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) who, in turn, has hired Leo to direct a screenplay adaptation by elitist scribe screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo).

But Leo has now been found propped up dead on the stage, and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell playing the character in a deadpan, haggard way) shows up to investigate. He seems less than thrilled to be there, with his slow-burn irritation only exacerbated by young Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), who's far too over eager to help, at least to Stoppard's liking.

And thus begins the whodunit part that includes everyone involved with the production from the aforementioned characters through the lead, Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), down to the usher, Dennis (Charlie Cooper). Stoppard views everyone as a possible suspect, but also a potential future victim, and thus the line of questioning and flashbacks begin.

That's all fine in concept and I didn't dislike the film in general. But the execution is oddly inert, with the quirkiness feeling forced and director Tom George's use of split screens and more seemingly trying to compensate for the otherwise dull proceedings.

Some will compare this to the king of quirk -- director Wes Anderson -- but while he went overboard in that with his last film ("The French Dispatch"), the attempt here is underwhelming and nowhere as clever, fun, and imaginative as it thinks it is. "See How They Run" (Out of Quirky Fun) rates as a flat 5 out of 10.

Posted September 16, 2022

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