It’s the kind of situation Agatha Christie would dream up.
A hit play in 1953 London is about to be made into a movie. One of the people involved, not a particularly likable person, is murdered. But … whodunit? Someone from the large ensemble of stage actors? The stage director? The writer working on the movie version?
It’s up to an inspector – and the constable assisting him – to solve the mystery.
That’s the situation in “See How They Run” (PG-13, 98 minutes, in theaters), a slight, but funny spoof of the type of murder yarns that were Dame Agatha’s specialty.
Oh, and by the way: That hit play in the movie? It’s Christie’s real-life hit “The Mousetrap.”
Sam Rockwell plays Inspector Stoppard, assigned to investigate the case with the help of the inexperienced Constable Stalker, played to comic perfection by Saoirse Ronan.
Both have their issues: Stoppard has had a sad romantic past and has turned to drink; newbie Stalker has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions and is too eager to pin the murder on anyone based on a slim piece of evidence.
Meanwhile, typical of the genre, there are lots of colorful supporting characters serving as suspects and/or victims. Among them: a crass Hollywood director (Adrien Brody), the temperamental screenwriter (David Oyelowo), a tough theater promoter (Ruth Wilson) and the play’s proud lead actor, “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson).
“That Richard Attenborough?” fans of “The Great Escape” or “Jurassic Park” might wonder. Yes, Attenborough really did originate the role of the investigating detective sergeant in “The Mousetrap.” In fact, many of the characters here are fictionalized versions of real people from the “Mousetrap” world, including Agatha Christie (Shirley Henderson).
Pretty much everyone plays their roles to the hilt, which is appropriate for this brand of satire. Ronan, especially good, has many of the film’s best moments. In one, as inspector and constable are looking at the murder victim, seated on a couch on the play’s set, Stalker tells Stoppard, “And then he was deposited here … staged, so to speak.” Later, when she refers to the pompous writer as an “overrated playwright” and the writer scoffs, she rechecks her handwritten notes and explains she misread “celebrated playwright.” *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.