Clue

ClueSynopsis: Here is the murderously funny movie based on the world famous Clue board game. Was it Colonel Mustard in the study with a gun? Miss Scarlet in the billiard room with the rope? Or was it Wadsworth the butler? Meet all the notorious suspects and discover all their foul play things. You’ll love their dastardly doings as the bodies and the laughs pile up before your eyes.

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Clue 7.0

eyelights: the ensemble cast. the setting. the zany bits. the multiple endings gimmick.
eyesores: the lack of flat-out-funny jokes.

“Well, one of us did. We all had the opportunity, we all had a motive.”

I’ve been a fan of Clue since I was a kid. I remember spending evenings playing the game with my mom and guests and really digging the deductive skills it required. To me, this was super fun. For nostalgic reasons, I ended up buying the VCR games, the Great Museum Caper version, a computer game, and even the Simpsons version. The Secrets and Spies one is not far behind, I’m sure.

And yet, I feel some hesitation with respect to the film, which is based on the principles of the American version of the game (I’ve never played Cluedo, the Brit original) .

I remember when ‘Clue’ came out. I was in grade school then and a bunch of classmates were going to see it over the weekend. I wasn’t really interested, quite frankly; even if I enjoyed playing it, the idea of a movie based on a board game seemed uninspired, if not absurd. But some of my friends were going and convinced me to go along.

I still remember the cinema, but not the experience. What I do remember, however, is the gimmick: ‘Clue’ presented audiences with three distinct endings, and this particular cinema played all three versions, indicating which room projected which ending. I remember not knowing which one to choose, so we just picked one randomly.

The resulting experience left us indifferent; we walked out of there unimpressed, but also not entirely bored. It was a forgettable experience… certainly forgettable enough that we never planned to go watch the other endings – even at a time when it was easy to sneak into other films or stay for multiple screenings of the same one. We just couldn’t be bothered.

It would be years until I even dared to revisit the film again.

I remember vividly when the DVD came out. It was in the early years of the format and prices were still achingly high. The video store I worked at started buying and reselling DVDs, and the owner had picked up a second-hand copy of ‘Clue’. I was immediately drawn to it by its promise of serving up all three endings either back-to-back or at random.

I thought that was the coolest thing ever! (it was, after all, the early days of DVD…)

I watched it and, while I was still not entirely enthused about it, ‘Clue’ was amusing enough. After having discovered ‘Murder by Death‘ (during my exploration of Peter Sellers’ career, a couple of years prior), which I then adored, I wanted more of this type of murder mystery in a mansion spoof, and I was willing to scrape the bottom of the barrel to do it.

Turns out that ‘Clue’ got a lot of spin over the years since I purchased it. It’s not brilliant, but it became the perfect late-night fodder for falling asleep to: amusing dialogue, not too loud, and not too visual. With time, I began to focus more on the nuances of the exchanges and of the humour, and have actually become a minor fan. Go figure.

Set in 1954, the central conceit of ‘Clue’ is that a half-dozen men and women are convoked to a dinner at a mysterious mansion… by an undisclosed person. While they are strangers, they all have one thing in common: they are all being blackmailed by their host for various reasons. Within a short while, bodies start turning up and panic ensues; no one knows who the murderer is!

Who is the maniacal host? Who is Mr. Boddy? And who killed the cook in the kitchen with the knife?

Any of the three endings will reveal the murderer. Or murderers.

One of the things that really appeals to me is the fact that it’s an ensemble cast picture; I have a weak spot for those, for some reason, but the fact that I know each of the actors adds to my relish. I also love the setting, which is classic, and reminds me of such fare as Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians‘. And I certainly enjoy the quirky humour, even though its delivery is often too unsubtle for my taste.

Still, ultimately, it’s the cast that seals the deal:

The usual suspects

Mr. Green: Michael McKeen (of ‘This is Spinal Tap’ fame) serves up a slice of John Ritter as a gay man who insists he has nothing to hide. His performance isn’t pitch-perfect, but it’s pretty good. And, frankly, I like the character; the way everyone reacts to him contributes greatly to the mix.

Colonel Mustard: Martin Mull (who made his biggest splash in ‘Roseanne’) plays a stuffy military man who works for the Pentagon. Mull plays him rather straight-laced with very few heavy-handed moments to speak of.

Mrs. Peacock: Eileen Brennan (who, coincidentally, was also in ‘Murder by Death’) plays the wife of a Senator. Personally, I think that Brennan is stellar here; I can’t think of a time when she was better-suited for a role (although her multiple awards for ‘Private Benjamin’, which I haven’t seen in decades, would suggest otherwise). She gives Mrs. Peacock a sense of entitlement, confidence and intelligence.

Professor Plum: I had no idea that Christopher Lloyd was in this film when I first saw it. I recall being unhappy with his performance, after being enamoured with him in ‘Back to the Future‘. It was likely just misplaced expectations, but I still find him slightly too dialed up for my taste. Here he plays a horny ex-psychiatrist who works for the World Health Organization. He has his moments, but I still think this was a miscast.

Miss Scarlet: Leslie Ann Warren is seductive as a Susan Sarandon-esque madam who has had some run-ins with politicians in her career. She was definitely better in ‘Secretary‘, but I quite like her, even though she sometimes goes a little too broad. She certainly gave the part the right amount of class in relation to her crudeness.

Mrs. White: I don’t know why, but I always imagined Ms. White as being from the Far East, so Madeline Kahn simply doesn’t cut it. I’m not exactly a big fan of her delivery, either, so the character fell flat. She tried to affect a snooty attitude, but it’s far too forced to be believable. While this is perhaps the worst casting of the film, she is still relatively okay.

The support staff

Wadsworth: Tim Curry (of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ fame) plays the butler, who buttles. He is the central focus of the film, given that he coordinates the whole soirée for his master. He also gets the spotlight towards the end, when his character recreates the evening’s events in one long monologue, running about to bring everyone up to speed. It’s not subtle, but Curry is genius, mixing up the drama and comedy perfectly.

Yvette: Colleen Camp plays the French maid. While her accent is ridiculous, if not stereotypically inept, Camp’s performance on all other levels is superb. She plays her smart, but somewhat naïve. And sexy without knowing it. Dang… that girl is fine. F. I. N. E. So I may not be entirely objective when I say she’s excellent, but she’s nonetheless the highlight of the picture for me.

Mrs. Ho: What can we say about Kellye Nakahara, who has maybe one line and barely any screen time? Efficient, or serviceable, might be the best way to describe her performance.

The unknown

Mr. Boddy: Lee Ving, frontman for punk band Fear, plays the blackmailer, Mr. Boddy. I knew nothing of the man until writing up this film, and still don’t know how he got cast, but I can tell you that, as an actor, he’s a great guitarist. Thankfully, the part requires him to be stoic, so his limited emotional range is barely perceptible. Still, he is creepy enough for the part.

There are also a few cameos, unexpected guests that distract the group from all the blackmail and murder, one of which is from Howard Hesseman as the Chief of police. This one is only notable because of Hesseman (who was wildly popular on ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’), and because he absolutely does not look the part of an officer of the law of that era – he looks like a hippy in a trench coat and fedora. I don’t know if he was grabbed off the street at the last minute, but his solid performance is bogged down by the fact that he doesn’t look the part.

Unfortunately, ‘Clue’ lacks the cleverness required to make it outright funny. It has an amusing premise (the story was conceived of by John Landis, then still in his prime), but the completed product is missing the one-liners and gags needed to really sustain it. It’s amusing enough, there’s no doubt, but a zany romp like this one should have been so wildly funny for it to be unforgettable. As it stands, it’s an improvement over the corniness of ‘Murder by Death’, but it’s nonetheless not rip-roaring.

Post scriptum: And who is the murderer, finally, you wonder?  You get three choices: A, B or C. Personally, I prefer ending C, which is so self-consciously convoluted that it’s hilarious.

What about you?

Date of viewing: July 19, 2013

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