Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 6, 2012)
If one wanted to make a movie based on a boardgame, "Clue" was as sensible a source as any. The game is essentially a murder mystery that requires the player to solve it, and that doesn't seem too different from normal flicks that use similar plots. I think it's an odd concept, though, and it clearly didn't catch fire, as it took 27 years for another boardgame-inspired flick to come along via 2012’s Battleship.
I never saw 1985’s Clue in its era; as I recall, it received pretty poor reviews, and there was no positive word of mouth to compel me to watch it, so I never bothered. When it hit DVD in 2000, though, I figured I'd give it a gander.
Much to my surprise, the film itself actually provides a moderate amount of fun. Clue is a modest little piece that maintains a consistently - and appropriately - light tone; it never goes so far as to acknowledge its origins, but it keeps up a vaguely tongue in cheek attitude throughout the movie.
That mood works well for this project, as it wouldn't have benefited from either taking itself too seriously or ranging too far to the outrageous side of the street. Although I don't know if I'd indeed refer to Clue as "campy", it definitely stays loose and glib, and the actors provide wonderfully broad performances; they all know they're playing glorified cartoon characters, and they behave appropriately.
The cast of Clue probably is its greatest strength, as we find a solid roster of character actors without a single lead actor in the mix. Actually, I suppose that once upon a time, Lesley Anne Warren (Miss Scarlet) had leading lady potential, but she never got to “A-list” status and has spent most of her career in smaller parts.
Of the rest of the principals, some have played lead roles but all have earned their keep through supporting parts. From Michael McKean to Martin Mull to Christopher Lloyd to Eileen Brennan to Madeline Kahn to Tim Curry - these are all actors who have great depth to their careers and who are accustomed to supporting roles. As such, since none of the parts in Clue are leads, this group can mesh together well and carry what otherwise might have been a weak piece.
Kahn offers perhaps the funniest bit in Clue, made more amusing because it's a complete throwaway that only appears in one of the film's three endings (more about that soon).
Toward the very end of the movie, Curry's butler turns off the lights before he explains the identity of the murderer. (The darkness was used to make the transition between the action and the different endings run smoothly.) For one of the conclusions, the butler says, "Sorry - I didn't mean to scare you", to which McKean's Mr. Green replies, "It's a bit too late for that! I hate it when he does that!" As Mrs. White, Kahn lets out this pathetic warble of a scream combined with a gasp that's spectacularly strange but amazingly funny; I almost missed it the first time and had to zip back to watch it again.
As odd as it may sound, it's that kind of moment where the casting of
Clue pays off. The character actors in the film are so experienced and so talented, they can take an absolutely nothing moment and make it something special. Clue itself will never be regarded as a classic, but I found it to be fairly entertaining, largely due to the efforts of the wonderful cast.
About those different endings: in a move that added maybe seven dollars to the film's poor $3 million gross, the producers shot three different endings and randomly attached them to different prints. The hope was to induce repeat viewings, since people would want to see all three conclusions. Unfortunately, Clue was such a bomb that almost no one wanted to watch it end once, much less sit through it two or more additional times.
All three endings appear on this disc, and the format allows the viewer to select how he or she would like them presented. For videotape, the studio created what they called the "trilogy ending". This attached all three of the "solutions" to the end of the movie and runs them back-to-back-to-back. Lamely, it designated the final one "what really happened", which defeated the entire purpose of the multiple endings.
The better solution features here due to the programmability of Blu-ray. When you start Clue, you can select either the "trilogy ending" or to view one of the three at random. In my opinion, this is definitely the best way to watch the movie. If you just want to see what's in all the endings, then you should use the "trilogy", but if you want to view the movie in a more normal fashion, the random conclusion is the way to go.
Although they failed to ignite the box office, I think the random endings are kind of a cool idea. However, they do make Clue more of a comedy and less of a mystery. Because each ending features a different murderer, that means the storyline has to keep things sufficiently vague. In other words, it's literally impossible to solve the mystery as you watch the film. In fact, more attentive viewers may find multiple problems with the various solutions; I'm not that attentive, but the entry for Clue on IMDB shows how many holes appear in the different conclusions.
Ultimately, the film still works because of the broad and ebullient work of the actors, but I can't help but think that Clue would have been a better movie as a whole without the extra endings. Yes, they're a fun idea, but the generic sense that they forced hurts the story. The comedy is sufficient to make the film entertaining, but had the picture offered a more clear-cut mystery we could follow, it might have been a real winner. As it stands, Clue will just have to settle for being an enjoyable little piece of fluff.