Television director Tom George makes the leap to big screen features with quirky 1950s-set whodunnit See How They Run. Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell head a cast of international stars and British TV alumni, but sadly charismatic turns from the likeable leads rarely detract from a shallow archness to proceedings.
It’s 1953 and one year after Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap debuted in the West End. The play remains a smash hit, with talk of big shot, boorish American director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) adapting it into a feature film. Of course, that’s before he’s murdered backstage, triggering a police investigation by damaged alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) and enthusiastic, inexperienced Constable Stalker (Ronan). The opening sequence, establishing a motley cast of characters all with potential motive and opportunity, is rote but knowingly so, while the bright, colourful set design and cinematography promise a light but fun entertainment ahead.
Sadly, that promise gradually transforms into a threat; the lightness of tone quickly reveals a shallowness, while its cast of suspects are idiosyncratic yet unmemorable. George has clearly taken his aesthetic cue from Wes Anderson, but has missed the underlying depth that that director’s dioramic visual style often belies. Moreover, the score’s – standard comedy jazz noodling – desperation to prove its own quirkiness begins to grate almost immediately.
There’s a fundamental lack of confidence that leads See How They Run’s to fall back on rote characters, hit and miss sight gags and a striking but shallow visual style. The film responds to its own derivativeness with arched eyebrow after eyebrow, hanging lampshades on each successive cliché as a limp acknowledgement of its own lack of originality. On paper, George seems a natural fit for an idiosyncratic British detective comedy. His sitcom This Country brilliantly captured a peculiar type of Englishness, while Defending the Guilty suggests an adeptness in finding the funny in the British legal system.
There’s plenty of fun bit parts for George’s contemporaries – Tim Key, Reece Shearsmith, Charlie Cooper and Paul Chahidi among them – but sadly little of the incisive, warm humour that defines his TV work. As a character comedy, See How They Run is flat and unfunny; as a whodunnit, the assemblage of narrative gears is dull, convoluted and simplistic. In a conclusion that baits Christie’s play, our heroes break the fourth wall to ask us not to reveal the denouement. They needn’t have bothered: after all, it’s only fun to spoil something that wasn’t blindingly obvious in the first place.