One question to ask when evaluating a movie is: Who is it for? The answer for "See How They Run" seems to be: Chris Hewitt.
For starters, as I may have noted one or 6,000 times, I am an Agatha Christie fan and "See How They Run" begins at the London theater where her "Mousetrap" is playing and ends at her home. It's set in a time period — the early '50s — that feels glamorous and romantic, with everyone dressed impeccably and (on the surface) behaving kindly. It's a mystery and a comedy. And it stars an inventive, versatile actor, Saoirse Ronan, who is one of the people who makes me most hopeful about the future of movies.
Ronan's wry performance makes a connection to her films with Wes Anderson. There's a silly, deadpan quality to "See How They Run," which, like Anderson, owes a debt to mid-century Ealing studio comedies such as "Passport to Pimlico" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets."
She plays Constable Stalker, an efficient, cheerful police trainee whose instincts are unerringly wrong. Stalker assists grizzled Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) when there's a murder backstage at "Mousetrap," which had opened in 1952 and is — incredibly — still running today.
"See How They Run" is jammed with in-jokes to delight Christie fans. The title refers to a nursery rhyme Christie also used for her "Three Blind Mice." Nearly all the character names come from Christie novels (one that doesn't references playwright Tom Stoppard, whose "The Real Inspector Hound" is a parody of "Mousetrap" and, yes, there's an Inspector Hound in "See How They Run," too). And actual Christie facts figure into the solution to the movie's mystery, such as the provision that no "Mousetrap" film could be made until the play closed.
But you don't have to be a Christie fan to enjoy the breezy, clever "See How They Run," which also includes amusing performances by Ruth Wilson as a producer and Adrien Brody as a cynical movie director whose narration of "See How They Run" gets cut short when he's murdered.
This is director Tom George's first feature — he's done lots of British TV — but he nails the lighthearted tone and embraces verging-on-hokey jokes in the same way that "Arrested Development" used to (pointing to a possible murder weapon, Stalker says, "That's the ski he took in the face and I'm afraid it was all downhill from there"). George also enjoys meta touches such as a stiff playwright (David Oyelowo) who complains that flashbacks "are crass, lazy and they interrupt the flow of the story" while he's in the middle of a flashback and who then adds, "What's next? 'Three weeks later?'" Cut to the movie shifting to three weeks later.
"See How They Run" is not the type of movie anyone else is making these days and I'm worried that it's not the type people are going to, either. Maybe "Knives Out" carved a path for it? I hope so. In a perfect world, "See How They Run" — like "Mousetrap" — would run forever.
'SEE HOW THEY RUN'
3.5 stars (out of 4)
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some violence/bloody images and a sexual reference)
Running time: 1:38
How to watch: In theaters Friday