MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Black Comedy Mystery/ Stars: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Bill Henderson, Jane Wiedlin, Jeffrey Kramer, Kellye Nakahara, Will Nye, Rick Goldman, Don Camp, Howard Hesseman/ Runtime: 96 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that the iconic board game Clue is one that is truly among the most known board games out there and should be seen as a member of the royal family of board games; an honor that it shares with such dignitaries incidentally as Monopoly, Life, and Battleship to name but a few. Indeed these are games that have managed to engage players of all ages and skill levels for years whilst also doing a commendable job of teaching people such things as strategizing, puzzle solving, and (in the case of Monopoly) successful financial managing (thus making it the ire of banks and millennials everywhere). Thus with so many copies being sold, so many people aware of the basics of the games, and their recognition to some degree or another in the world of pop culture I guess it somewhat surprises me to see that there aren’t more cinematic adaptations of these games than there currently are. Indeed be it film scribes or helmers being unable to bring the experience of playing the game to life in a way that works in a cinematic format (though the Jumanji movies might politely just shake their heads and then share just how they did it) or an innate desire not to go after something that sacred (though when has that ever stopped Hollywood?), the fact remains that board games haven’t had that long of a shelf life in the world of movie magic especially when compared to movies based on books or comic books. 2 categories which, incidentally, have consistently found themselves being eagerly scooped up by the film community. To that end, it should be noted that film helmer Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 take on Clue is by and large perhaps the best of the seldom few cinematic adaptations of a board game out there in the world around us. Indeed not only is it an amusing yet also loyal cinematic take on the board game, but it is also a delight to watch, an easy sit, and more insightful and puzzling than you might be expecting such an adaptation to be.
The plot is as follows: Clue takes place on a single pitch black, rainy night as we see that a quintet of guests have all been asked to come to an enigmatic party of sorts at a massive and somewhat isolated manor with no idea as to why, who else will be showing up, or who even their host is in the first place. It is also around this time that we see the estate is kept up by a droll yet well-meaning butler named Wadsworth, a very pretty maid by the name of Yvette, and a cook who is never at any point in time given a name so we’ll just call her “Jane Doe”. So it is that we see that upon them arriving at the manor, each guest is given a particular alias and a particular…..party favor that may come in handy later. These guests, as you may have already deduced, are to be known as Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green, and Mrs. Peacock. Oh and their party favors are, in no particular order, a lead pipe, a gun, a candlestick, a wrench, a knife, and a rope tied into a noose (gee I wonder where I’ve seen or heard that before). To that end, we see our dynamic group begin to sort through this puzzle and a commonality amongst them begins to emerge in the form of not only do they all work to some degree in the government, but they are all also being blackmailed (dun dun dun). It is with this revelation being uncovered that we then see the group introduced to a man calling himself Mr. Boddy. A man who, in addition to other aspects, is noteworthy to this group since it is he who is blackmailing them (gasp). Things take a turn though when the manor’s power is cut and, in the ensuing chaos, someone murders Mr. Boddy. Even more eerie than that is the fact that not only is there no bullet wound to be found despite the gun going off, but there is also no indicator that any of the previously distributed “party favors” also were the deliverers of the fatal blow. Yet despite being terrified out of their minds, our group is still nevertheless doggedly determined to figure out the proverbial whodunit….that is before the body count begins to get even higher. Thus we soon witness as tension rises, trust falls apart, and our beleaguered group finds themselves stuck with a little under an hour to find the murderer before the cops show up and all of their secrets are put out in the open for public consumption (oh the horror!).
Now one of the few quirks that this slice of cinematic pie has going against it has to be how limited it is in terms of where it can wind up. I say this because even though the board game has virtually limitless ways that it can be resolved, this slice of cinematic pie is saddled with the same basic narrative and only a trinity of possible resolutions. Yet although you aren’t likely to get the same amount of replayability out of this film as you would the board game that inspired it, this cinematic take on Clue is still able to operate quite well as either a companion piece to the game or as something that stands on its own proud and true. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie proves not only to be a comedic and engaging movie for the family to enjoy, but it is also that wholeheartedly accepts the clichés of the genre it is a part of and is a better movie because of it. Indeed as seen in the film bouts of thunder and lightning often magnify the telegraphed in advance jump moments, downright delightfully cheesy false peril music is a key component in many a scene, the enjoyably clueless group of characters wonderfully stumble about, and the manor setting is top-notch in how it is big but not to the point that it overwhelms. Suffice it to say then that all of these ingredients all manage to blend together to form a slice of cinematic pie that is amusingly engaging and gets quite a bit right. Yes some of the comedic bits that are repeated too tend to lose luster the more that they are used, but by and large this film is amusing, looks amazing, cast extremely well, and able to keep a vibe of legit mystery about itself even as it plays both safe to watch for pretty much everyone over the age of 10 and as over the top as possible in order to showcase a tempo that feels like the cinematic equivalent to how it feels playing the actual game with a decent size group of people.
Now film helmer Jonathan Lynn does a wonderful job of keeping his work behind the camera simple yet potent. Rather, he permits the setting and his gifted cast to mold the film while his camera simply showcases what is going on instead of defining it. Indeed, this slice of cinematic pie is one that is strengthened by a terrific locale and a gifted cast. Starting with the locale, the house is brilliant in that it is foreboding, but not outright terrifying on the surface and feels more like something that you would see in a classic Scooby-Doo cartoon especially when a storm is raging outside. Meanwhile, it is pitch black, warm, and honestly almost inviting yet also enigmatic and weirdly perilous. I mean this is the locale that is tiny enough to be some degree of intimate, but also big enough that it can have all these people in it whilst also keeping hidden all the things that go on during this movie. As for the cast, they all do a wonderful job of becoming their respective characters and they all bring a delightful joy and energy to their characters with each of them playing things to the hilt and getting in the true spirit of things without ever feeling forced in any way. Yet as winning as everyone is in their respective roles, it is Tim Curry who walks away with the movie as the butler who, in his own words, “butles”. Indeed Curry’s character is the adhesive that keeps the narrative in line and the movie operating at a decent enough clip. Not only that, but Curry’s machine-gun rate of speed hilarious clarification of just what all has occurred during the film at the end proves to be the most brilliant resolution for a slice of cinematic pie that is quicker than the Flash, gives us new wrinkles to ponder faster than a speeding bullet, and delights with a wonderful mix of offbeat comedy, legit mystery, and poking playfully at the clichés of this particular genre.
All in all and at the end of the day, I think it is safe to say that the cinematic take on Clue really truly is a whimsical little slice of cinematic pie that is also one which abounds with the energy that comes from playing the board game that this movie is inspired by. Indeed Clue truly is a potent, comedic, and well performed movie that is aided by the fact that its source material is so iconic and the production is of the utmost quality. That and the cast that this film has assembled for the various parts manages to become their characters quite admirably and, just as crucially, all look like they are 110% enjoying themselves. To that end, whilst this slice of cinematic pie might not be as engaging as the actual game due to the cap of possible endings it has and options for those endings, it is still nevertheless a wonderful and terrifically engaging slice of cinema that I promise you and your amateur sleuths of about 11+ will have no problems wishing to investigate time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Clue “85” a solid 3.5 out of 5.