Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap” began its West End run in 1952. Seventy years later, the classic country-house mystery is still going strong, at 26,000 performances and counting. “See How They Run,” adding comedy to mystery, turns “The Mousetrap” upside down and inside out — if not quite “Knives Out.”
The sequel to that movie, “Glass Onion,” arrives in December. In the meantime there’s “See,” which is often funny, if not Benoit Blanc funny.
“See” begins not with seeing but listening, courtesy of a voice-over from Leo Kopernick (a happily sour Adrien Brody). Leo is a Hollywood director, assigned to do the forthcoming film adaptation of “Mousetrap.” Here we have the movie’s first joke. “The Mousetrap” has yet to make it to the big screen.
Leo’s at a party celebrating the play’s 100th performance. Another attendee is the playwright hired to do the adaptation, Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo, as cheerfully over the top as his character’s name).
Then . . wait, already we’re into spoiler territory, and “See” really is as much mystery as comedy. Soon enough, Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) arrive on the scene. Someone at the party has been murdered. That someone won’t be the only victim.
Stoppard and Stalker (sounds like a music-hall team, doesn’t it?) get around London in a sky-blue Mini. It’s one of numerous nicely observed period details. In its relish for such details no less than its general stylization, “See” can seem at times as if it’s auditioning to be a Wes Anderson movie. The aspiration is commendable, even if the execution is wanting. The presence of Anderson regulars Ronan and Brody adds to the effect. It’s a big month for Brody. He’s in “Blonde,” the Marilyn Monroe biopic, playing Arthur Miller. It opens next week. (Can you keep a secret? He’s a lot better as Leo.)
Stalker is a bit starstruck. This is good for almost as many laughs as her tendency to make inadvertent bad puns is. The movie’s a bit starstruck, too. Richard Attenborough — “Dickie” to one and all — is a character (Harris Dickinson). He was in the original cast. Christie is a character, too. Let’s just say that she knows her way around a bottle of rat poison.
There are various bits of stage business and theater jokes. One of the funnier has a puzzled character asking, “What possible reason could I have for strangling a playwright? I haven’t seen anything he’s done.” The name of Rockwell’s character qualifies as a two-fer: You get Tom Stoppard and his one-act play “The Real Inspector Hound.” Come to think of it, “See” is in relation to “The Mousetrap” as Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead” is to “Hamlet,” not that the former two are exactly comparable to the latter.
“See” is Tom George’s first feature. He’s done lots of British television. To keep the movie from feeling too much like a play, he uses split screens a lot. It becomes a visual tic. There are also flashbacks and an ill-considered dream sequence. By the time it comes along, the sprightliness of the first act has begun to feel a bit mechanical. Explanations have to be given, and mysteries solved — and not necessarily satisfyingly.
Ronan and Rockwell (another music-hall act?) are the heart of the movie. He’s miscast. It’s not just that he’s American. Stoppard isn’t just bewildered by the murders. He’s bewildered by life. To keep that larger bewilderment from dragging down the movie calls for a certain antic quality. Brody has it. Rockwell doesn’t. That hangdog face seems less like a comic mask than a window into Stoppard’s soul.
Ronan is the best thing in the picture. What a great innocent deadpan she has. Stalker may be wide-eyed and inexperienced. She’s also the smartest character in “See.” With utter ease, Ronan makes that apparent contradiction make perfect sense. She gives a marvelously droll performance. Whenever Ronan’s not on the screen, “See” seems to lose something. It’s no mystery why.
SEE HOW THEY RUN
Directed by Tom George. Written by Mark Chappell. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Harris Dickinson. At Boston theaters, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square, suburbs. 98 minutes. PG-13 (some violence/bloody images, a sexual reference).
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.