The murder mystery genre will always be a source of entertainment for the public. With films like director Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Kristie’s 1937 novel, death on the nile, it is not difficult to imagine why. Later this year, viewers will be able to see Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his knives out history, glass onion, which follows detective Benoit Blanc coming to terms with another shocking death among a group of friends. With these entries, Hollywood mystery stories show no signs of slowing down. Tom George returns to directing, attempting to take on the genre with humor and style. Relying heavily on whodunit tropes, See how they work it’s a little too stale and unfunny for its own good.
In 1950s London’s West End, a production crew from a popular play prepare for its 100th show. This celebration marks their journey towards making the film version of their hit production. Unfortunately, the commemoration of their potentially happy occasion comes to an unexpected halt when their director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) is murdered. Ready to take on the case is none other than weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his enthusiastic rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Already in the midst of a world of drama and unknowns, the two are thrown into a loop when the mysterious homicide turns into what appears to be a cast search.
Director Tom George’s attempt to revive the genre fails in execution, stripping away what makes crime novels great in the first place. The characters are so finely written that it’s hard to care about anything related to them. His introductions come as simple Brody Köpernick voiceovers, in which he offers a quick fact or two about each potential suspect or victim. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t give viewers a chance to see the characters in action, nor does it allow them to draw their own conclusions about who may have killed the victim. It’s wasteful and takes away from what would normally be a fun and engaging viewing experience.
The humor throughout See how they work it is extremely dry and does not achieve any kind of delight from the story. Perhaps this was intentional, but it’s hard to believe that it will land with the masses. In one particular sequence, for example, screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) pokes fun at flashbacks and time-jumping title cards within murder mysteries. Then, without hesitation, the screen scrolls to a “3 weeks later” title card and jumps. This kind of dry, contrived humor is prevalent throughout George’s feature film, and viewers will see it coming from a mile away. The worst part is the execution, which is weird and doesn’t deliver the comedy it intended.
Apart from the forced humor, See how they work he does not shy away from making fun of himself or the gender to which he belongs. Somehow it remains bland and boring as certain sequences and twists are predictable in nature. Whodunits should naturally grab the attention of viewers for concept alone. But after a phenomenal early sequence, much of the movie goes downhill from there. That’s not to say that everything in George’s feature doesn’t work. Truth be told, the set and costume designs are key components that accentuate the dynamic within the film. Even as the script begins to lose its initial momentum, the film’s setting allows cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay to do his best to capture the mood of the genre with beautiful photography.
Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell also support this script thanks to their performances. However, they could have been a more fascinating couple if the script had given their characters some kind of personality. They cope well with each other with the dialogue given to them. But despite their best efforts, their performances couldn’t get this movie out of its bind. Brody’s character said it best about whodunits earlier in the film: “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But it’s hard to identify the last one in the genre that came out as lifeless and unfunny as this one.
See how they work is in theaters September 16. The film is 98 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for a sexual reference and some violence/gore imagery.
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