“See How They Run” (2022) – “(If) you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” – Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody)
In Tom George’s first movie, he sends (fictional) Hollywood director Leo Kopernick to London to catch a play, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”, because the blunt-talking, on-screen filmmaker wants to turn the work into a motion picture.
The year is 1953, and Mr. Kopernick is a fish out of water while staying across the pond. This crafty, former New Yorker (judging by his accent) doesn’t exactly mesh with British socialites. Soon after a “The Mousetrap” performance, we discover that some of the cast and crew don’t particularly enjoy Kopernick’s company. In fact, Leo physically tackles the play’s lead, Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), into a giant green cake!
So, our American “friend” makes a mess of things.
Well, “The Mousetrap” is a murder mystery, a Christie specialty, but Leo’s tepid reaction to the play and the genre is captured in his aforementioned quote.
“See How They Run” – written by Mark Chappell – is a murder mystery as well, set in the world of theatre where just about “everyone” plays a made-up part in a stage drama within this movie, but some become homicide suspects, too.
In addition to a couple of twists, George and Chappell throw the audience a curveball because “See How They Run” doubles as a comedy or a supposed one.
Other than a lively, playful performance by Saoirse Ronan – who plays Scotland Yard’s Constable Stalker, a plucky, young upstart with no practical, in-the-field experience yet – this spoof, unfortunately, dies on the cinematic vine.
The 93-minute runtime feels like an eternity.
This story trudges through mechanical introductions and nondescript follow-up encounters, as Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) – a fatigued, sluggish cynic who’d rather throw a few back at a local pub than hit the pavement to solve crimes – and Stalker aim to solve a murder because someone dies in the West End.
Foul play is afoot, but the movie starts on the wrong one with Stoppard’s entrance to the crime scene.
Usually, Rockwell is a delightful presence with oceans of charisma and charm, even when Sam portrays disreputable characters. Just look back at his turns as a dog thief (“Seven Psychopaths” (2012)), a con artist (“Matchstick Men” (2003)), a racist cop (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)), and a Nazi captain (“Jojo Rabbit” (2019)). Don’t forget other memorable Rockwell performances in “Galaxy Quest” (1999), “Moon” (2009), “The Way Way Back” (2013), and as Chuck Barris in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2003).
Rockwell is an immensely talented actor, but – for whatever reason – he portrays Stoppard with all the enthusiasm of a master chef dropping a stale slice of Wonder Bread in a toaster.
(Sam seems miscast here, or he’s just going for the wrong vibe. Instead, insert Brian Cox, and let him revise his dedicated but frequently agitated Captain O’Hagan from “Super Troopers” (2001), as Stalker’s mentor. Naturally, Brian should use his natural-born Scottish accent in this case.)
Perhaps, Stoppard and the audience would benefit if our lifeless lead took some advice from his captain when he says, “I’m hoping some of (Stalker’s) enthusiasm for police work might rub off on you.”
Most regrettably, it doesn’t.
Stoppard’s largely lethargic aura seems to set the dull, inspired tones for this film that ironically has the look of a Wes Anderson picture. Cheers to production designer Amanda McCarthur for the colorful sets and editors Gary Dollner and Peter Lambert for quirky shifts between locations inside and outside the theatre house.
This movie has eccentric characters as well.
Actually, scratch the last part because even though the players may look slightly oddball, they don’t feel or act peculiar. Instead, when Stoppard and Stalker confront the suspects, they must all be watching American television because they routinely recite “just the facts, Ma’am.”
This approach may work splendidly for “Dragnet” (1951 – 1959) but not for a whimsical comedy. David Oyelowo (“Selma” (2014), “A United Kingdom” (2016)) is an accomplished actor, and Dickinson, Gregory Cox, Charlie Cooper, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, and Sian Clifford might be fine thespians, but no one other than Ronan offers an amusing line, at least one that I could remember.
Then again, the plot does follow a familiar pattern of a Christie story, and from that perspective, the picture offers more than simple competence. Though, you might have to ignore the clumsy, awkward discourse and choreography during the third-act reveal…or, at that point, even care about the ultimate conclusion.
Again, Leo mentions, “If you’ve seen one (murder mystery), you’ve seen them all.” Let’s hope that’s not a true statement because “See How They Run” just plods in place.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Tom George
Written by: Mark Chappell
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Harris Dickinson, Gregory Cox, Charlie Cooper, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, and Sian Clifford
Runtime: 93 minutes
Image credits: Searchlight Pictures