See How They Run (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): See how they spoof Agatha Christie mystery

“See How They Run”, which is currently available on Disney+ in South Korea, is an amusing spoof on Agatha Christie mystery novels. Although it does not surpass its main source of inspiration, the movie is fairly entertaining mainly thanks to the game efforts from its good cast members, and I enjoyed a number of various goodies to be appreciated by the fans of Christie’s mystery novels (Full disclosure: I have been one of them).

The movie, set in London during early 1953, opens with the sardonic narration of a person who is about to be murdered. He is an American movie director named Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), and he is recently hired for directing the film adaptation of “The Mousetrap”, a very successful London theater play based on one of short stories written by Christie. However, besides having a conflict with several people involved in the adaptation of “The Mousetrap”, he is also rather impolite and insufferable to others around him, and that surely makes him an ideal victim to be killed sooner or later.

Shortly after he is eventually murdered by someone, Köpernick’s dead body is found right on the set of “The Mousetrap” in the Ambassador Theater where the play was recently celebrated for its 100th performance. Naturally, everyone involved with Köpernick is a prime suspect to watch, and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), who is accompanied with Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), wants to shut down the production at least for a while, though that turns out to be impossible due to the increasing popularity of the play as well as Christie herself, who has been very fierce about protecting anything involved with her works for good reasons.

Like any other good Christie mystery, the movie has a fair share of broad but colorful suspects. There are 1) the movie producer who hired Köpernick and his private secretary who has been dreaming of becoming his second wife, 2) a prominent writer who has often clashed with Köpernick for their artistic difference, 3) the producer of the original play and her rather senile old mother, and 4) the lead actor of “The Mousetrap” and his wife who happened to be insulted by Köpernick not long before he got murdered.

The lead actor of “The Mousetrap” is incidentally Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), and that is just one of numerous references sprinkled throughout the film. For example, a certain real-life serial killing case is mentioned more than once in movie, and you may remember than Attenborough actually played that infamous serial killer in “10 Rillington Place” (1971). Furthermore, the movie producer in the film is a real-life figure who produced a number of notable Hollywood films such as “The African Queen” (1951), so several famous Hollywood figures are naturally mentioned in the story.

Above all, the story, written by Mark Chappell, cheerfully follows many genre conventions of Christie mysteries. Although he may not be as eccentric as Hercules Poirot or Jane Marple, Inspector Stoppard, who has no connection with Tom Stoppard as far as I can see, has his own little eccentricity, and his glum appearance is complemented well by the cheerful enthusiasm of Constable Stalker, who is not as threatening as her surname suggests. As advised by her superior, she tries not to make conclusions too hastily, but she cannot help it as more hidden facts pop out here and there around them along the story, and even her superior does not seem to tell everything to her.

I certainly do not dare to reveal the identity of the killer in the story here in my review, though I can tell you instead that some of major clues lie in “The Mousetrap”, which is still being performed in London’s West End even at this point (Believe or not, it had run continuously there till the production had to be shut down to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 March). Although I have not seen it on stage yet, I read Christie’s short story at least, and I was certainly amused as observing how the movie itself becomes a sly send-up version of “The Mousetrap” via a series of “life-imitates-art” moments later in the story.

The cast members of the movie, some of whom are clearly color-blinding casting, are solid in their droll comic acting. While Sam Rockwell, who can be quite showy as shown from his recent Oscar-winning supporting turn in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), dials down his presence for some deadpan comedy, Saoirse Ronan brings considerable pluck and wit to her character, and they are supported well by a bunch of notable performers including Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Charlie Cooper, Shirley Henderson, Lucian Msamati, and David Oyelowo, who is overtly flamboyant for demonstrating the more humorous sides of his talent.

By the way, my late mentor/friend Roger Ebert once complained that Christie mysteries mostly felt too dry and bloodless for him, and I agree to his opinion even though I love revisiting some of the best works from Christie. Sure, they are usually more or less than intellectual puzzles to be solved without much emotional resonance, but they are still fun and delicious in my humble opinion, and “See How They Run” reminds me again of how much Christie’s mystery novels mean to me. I wish it could have more fun with its source material, but I had enough entertainment on the whole, so I will not grumble for now.

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