PLOT A murder mystery unfolds in London's West End in the early 1950s.
CAST Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, David Oyelowo
RATED PG-13 (some violence)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE This snoozy whodunit-spoof doesn’t have a clue.
The voice of a jaded filmmaker narrates “See How They Run,” a less-than-fond sendup of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” That West End play has been pleasing crowds since 1952 — with only a yearlong pause during the pandemic — but it's merely a “second-rate murder mystery" according to the American director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody). He'd like to make the movie and turn a buck, of course, but the whole whodunit genre bores him.
That sour attitude permeates this comedy, which straggles in late behind Kenneth Branagh’s two Christie adaptations, Rian Johnson’s homage “Knives Out” and Hulu’s Christie-indebted series “Only Murders in the Building." Despite a fine cast and an appealing period feel, the movie stands out mostly for its wan humor, listless energy and a curiously condescending attitude to the material that inspired it.
The action is set in 1953 as “The Mousetrap,” starring Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), celebrates its 100th show. That’s bad news for Köpernick, however, because the eccentric Christie (Shirley Henderson) won’t allow a film version to be made until the play closes. That detail is true, but the rest of the story is fiction: When the production is disrupted by the appearance of a real corpse on stage, the world-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the overeager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) arrive to investigate.
There’s some potential in the unlikely comedy team of Rockwell-Ronan, but their characters work against them. Stoppard is an allusion to the brilliant playwright Tom Stoppard (whose own Christie parody, "The Real Inspector Hound," informs this film), but he's written as a dull nonentity; he literally sleeps through much of the movie. Stalker, meanwhile, is simply too dumb to be endearing.
Satires work best when they have some affection for the sacred cows they’re skewering: the macho Western in “Blazing Saddles,” the musical biopic in “Walk Hard,” the self-serious disaster film in “Airplane!” Why sneer at the whodunit, which has never pretended to be anything but light entertainment?
The ending to “The Mousetrap” is such a closely guarded secret that Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard — who as a boy obtained the play's rights as a birthday gift — was dismayed to see it revealed in a Wikipedia entry. It’s hard to imagine anyone caring much about the ending to “See How They Run,” but I won’t spoil it. Even this disdainful whodunit deserves that much respect.