The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's famous stage murder mystery, has never been recorded. Christie stipulated that the film would only be released six months after the play's release on the West End. It never has. The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in history, still 70 years after it opened in 1952.
If you believe the production notes, you will find a plot point for See How They Run, a game that's small meta-whodunit deep in London theater history. He saw a way to not just circumvent this obstacle, but to use it to his advantage: He created a fictional whodunit about the whodunit, which then became one of the film's main components.
See How They Run, directed by Mark Chappell, turns Christie upside down and upside down, and laughs at the genre's creaking mechanisms while leaning on them. It's a great film, but George and Chappell are just too obsessed with their own postmodern genius, and are uninterested with constructing as knotty and satisfying a mystery as, say, Rian Johnsons whetstone-sharpened Knives Out.
The mousetraps' 100th performance in the real world has now aired almost 27,500 times. Richard Dickie Attenborough (Adrien Brody) and Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) are involved in the screenplay adaptation. Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) is a fantastic playwright. Attenborough and everyone are a bit choppy at the start of the night. Can the show go on?
This premise is characterized by a ludicrous humor, and it gets played out before the police arrive. Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) has been paired with awkward but determined new recruit Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to solve the case. The rest of the murder team is focused on the larger, much darker Rillington Place murders.
The wit and double-sided delicacy of this detail in showing the innocent slams of the proceedings while rooting them in a real place is typical of what See How They Run does, and it's one of the films' main pleasures, as it's more fun to guess which figures are fictional characters or cartoonish inventions.
A couple of late-film cameos play into this tense reality for a funny, audacious payoff. The visual effect follows the same path, creating a heightened, glittering 1950s London with a surprising authentic texture. (The filmmakers opportunism strikes again: The film was shot during the COVID-19 epidemic, which allowed the production access to some of London's finest theaters and hotels to shoot in, since they were closed for safety reasons.)
Although it isnt a murder mystery, See How They Run is equally effective as an outright comedy. George, a veteran British TV comedian, knows how to put gags together and pay them off, and scenes sometimes go too long in an airless fog between jokes.
The cast of Stalkers receives the credit. Ronan, as the charmingly sincere Stalker, executes her comic bits with impeccable timing and gets the greatest laughs without ever going overboard or breaking the character. As a joke she notes down anything anyone says, but in Ronans hands becomes a captivating kind of heroism.
Mumbling Stoppard is straight out of the buddy-cop playbook, but Rockwells amusingly underplayed turn compliments Ronans perfectly. Stoppard just lets the hijinks happen around him with a shrug, and is somehow more fun for being such a stoic straight guy.
Dickinsons' take on Attenborough is a riot, skewering a certain level of genteel and leading-man fatuousness. The secondary cast is a slew of British television and theater pros: people like Sian Clifford (Fleabag), Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones), Tim Key (the diverse Alan Partridge projects), and Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter), who can execute loving yet brutal roles in the span of a few lines.
See How They Run is a lark, a self-referential lark of theatrical and cinematic art. The problem is, like most larks of its kind, it exploits self-mockery as a grab-throw clause. He digs apart the whodunit conventions from beyond the grave, moments before they appear on screen. His own basic Hollywood instincts are similarly mocked one moment and deployed the next.
On September 16, See How They Run will be available in cinemas.