‘See How They Run’: Meta mystery builds a sillier ‘Mousetrap’

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan have a grand time as Scotland Yard gumshoes investigating a murder at Agatha Christie’s play.

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The seasoned Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is teamed with rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to investigate a Hollywood director’s murder in “See How They Run.”

Searchlight Pictures

It’s funny how we often see mini-similarities in two movies that just happen to be opening at the same time, as is the case this week with “Confess, Fletch” and “See How They Run.” The former is a light and breezy murder mystery featuring a world-weary veteran detective (Roy Wood Jr.) who is forever rolling his eyes at his naive, eager and green trainee partner (Ayden Mayeri), but don’t count out that rookie’s potential. And the latter is also a light and breezy murder-mystery featuring a world-weary veteran detective (Sam Rockwell) who is forever rolling his eyes at his naive, eager and green trainee partner (Saoirse Ronan) — but don’t count out that rookie’s potential!

The difference is that while Wood and Mayeri have supporting roles in “Fletch,” Rockwell and Ronan are the leads in “See How They Run,” director Tom George’s movie-within-a-play homage to the works of Agatha Christie. This is yet another meta story with the characters commenting on the story as it goes along, and while that gimmick is becoming tiresome, this is solidly constructed piece of lightweight entertainment with terrific period-piece costumes and sets, and suitably theatrical performances from a talented cast that is clearly enjoying itself while delivering a quality spoof.

“See How They Run” is set in 1953 London, where Agatha Christie’s relatively new play “The Mousetrap” is celebrating its 100th run. (Other than a stoppage for COVID, “The Mousetrap” has played nonstop for seven decades and is still running.) Adrien Brody is a hoot as the tawdry Hollywood director Leo Köpernick, who has been brought in to adapt the stage work for the silver screen, and has alienated everyone with his boorish manner and his desire to add all sorts of gunplay and ridiculous twists to the film version. Leo finds himself murdered in the opening act — not that this stops him from becoming our narrator. “I should have seen this coming,” says Leo, acknowledging he’s the most unlikable character in the story.

‘See How They Run’

Untitled

Searchlight Pictures presents a film directed by Tom George and written by Mark Chappell. Rated PG-13 (for some violence/bloody images and a sexual reference). Running time: 98 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

Enter the Scotland Yard team of Rockwell’s Inspector Stoppard (how’s that for a stage name, so to speak) and Ronan’s Constable Stalker, who literally writes everything in her notebook and is always jumping to conclusions, while Stoppard looks for an excuse to slip away to a nearby pub. The suspects include the preening and self-important screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), the compromised producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), the impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) and various cast members, including Dickie Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and his wife and co-lead Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda). The film veers neatly between fast wordplay and well-choreographed physical gags, and let’s just say ol’ Leo isn’t the only one who won’t get out of this story alive.

Screenwriter Mark Chappell cleverly combines pure fiction with some real-life touches, e.g., Attenborough and Sim really were in the original West End production of “The Mousetrap,” there are references to films such as “The African Queen,” etc., and the cast is wonderful. Sam Rockwell doesn’t put all that much effort into his British accent — it’s as if he’s still at the table read — but it kinda works with his character, and he’s the perfect straight man for Ronan’s endearingly clumsy machinations and self-deprecating dialogue. It all adds up to a smashingly good time.

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