by Julian Spivey
Director: Tom George
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan & Adrien Brody
Runtime: 1 hour & 38 minutes
“See How They Run,” directed by Tom George from a Mark Chappell screenplay, is a fun little whodunnit that pokes fun at the genre of whodunnits. Ultimately, it’s the poking fun aspect that comes off more satisfying than the crime story itself.
The film opens in 1953 in London with the celebration of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in the theater. American film director Leo Kopernick (a delightfully sleazy Adrien Brody), who’s also serving as the film’s narrator, is wanting to direct the film version of the popular play and feels he can make the story better too, which immediately sets him at odds with the playwright Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo). Kopernick gets into a slugfest with the play’s star Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) after making a pass at his wife and co-star Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda) at the after-party. The next thing you know Kopernick, who might be the film’s most interesting character, has shown up dead on the set of The Mousetrap, with his tongue cut out.
Luckily for us filmgoers, Kopernick will be seen in flashbacks, including one of the film’s best scenes where he’s describing the ridiculous changes he’d like to make to the play in its film version.
Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) is the first authority on the scene, but most wait for the lead detective Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) before really getting into the whodunnits of it all.
Ronan is delightful, as is frequently the case, as Stalker, a wet-behind-the-ears constable with high aspirations of going up in the job, but her greenery shows multiple times throughout the story when she jumps too soon to conclusions.
Rockwell plays Stoppard as a drunken, disheveled and depressed detective (is there any other kind in these stories). Despite the cliché, I still found it to be a likable performance, probably because Rockwell is a likable performer.
When “See How They Run” is at its best is when it’s playfully punching at the cliches of the whodunnit genre, like the aforementioned scene with Kopernick making changes to the story for the film, which I can’t go into depth on for fear of spoiling.
The unfortunate part of “See How They Run” is the eventual realization of the who in the whodunnit is not all that interesting, but it is propped up a bit with all the poking fun of what’s going on, especially a perfect needle drop of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” at the end.
“See How They Run” makes for a fun, breezy watch – even if its 98-minute runtime can still somewhat drag – mostly because of the performances by Rockwell, Ronan and Brody. I don’t see anyone needing a repeat viewing of the film, especially when there are recent absolute modern classics within the genre like “Knives Out” out there for the taking.
by Julian Spivey
Director: B.J. Novak
Starring: B.J. Novak, Boyd Holbrook & Ashton Kutcher
Runtime: 1 hour & 47 minutes
B.J. Novak’s directorial debut “Vengeance,” which is now streaming exclusively on Peacock after a theatrical run that began on July 29, had so much momentum going for it until it fizzled out by the end, or mostly because of its end.
Novak, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Ben Manalowitz, a journalist for The New Yorker (which is multiple times hilariously mistaken by local Texans as New York Magazine) who’s looking for a big break via a podcast in the vein of the many true crime podcasts that have become popular over the years. He stumbles upon one when he gets a tragic call from Texas that he doesn’t quite understand at first. Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) calls Ben late one night to tell him his girlfriend, Abilene (Ty’s sister), has died. The problem is she’s not Ben’s girlfriend, merely a former hook-up, but the Shaw family believes the two to have been very close.
Ben flies down to Texas for the funeral and gets roped into a revenge plot by Ty, who believes his sister has been murdered by a cartel member. Ben agrees to tell the story as a podcast (the working title “Dead White Girl” is hilarious).
Ben becomes close with the Shaw family – mother Sharon (J. Smith-Cameron), sisters Kansas City and Paris (Dove Cameron and Isabella Amara), brother Mason or “El Stupido” as he’s affectionately called (Eli Abrams Bickel) and grandmother Carole (Louanne Stephens). He’s also making ground on his story, which includes interviews with record producer Quinten Sellers (Ashton Kutcher) a smart, big city-schooled Texan who helped record Abilene, a singer-songwriter, and Sancholo (Zach Villa) the gang banger whom Ty believes killed his sister via a drug overdose.
There are a lot of laughs in “Vengeance” and most of them have to do with the big city writer Ben being a fish out of water in rural Texas, but I don’t believe the movie ever really pokes fun at small-town country folk. In fact, Ben is trying to show how folks have more in common than not (which is a storyline I’m kind of tired of at the moment).
“Vengeance” is strong for most of its one hour and 47-minute runtime, but unfortunately unravels quite a bit in its final minutes when Ben figures out the culprit behind Abilene’s death and acts, after quite the showdown between the two, in a manner that I didn’t feel was natural for his character, but certainly fit in with the title of the movie.