By any metric, Clue is the Citizen Kane of movies derived from board games. Of course, to my knowledge, it’s also the only movie derived from a board game, at least until they green-light Hungry Hungry Hippos. Still, this campy, cartoonish romp is probably the best thing you’ll ever get from a macabre whodunit where candyass snobs murder each other with candlesticks.
The story will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played the iconic mystery game. (And for anyone who’s never played Clue, I hope they at least had decent natural lighting in the cave where you were raised.) We open in New England, circa the mid-50s. Six disparate souls convene in an ominous Scooby Doo mansion for an evening of Agatha Christie shenanigans.
You already know and love all these players: Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull) is a huffing and puffing war profiteer. Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), is a preening psychiatrist who’s long on libido, but short on ethics. Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn) sees nothing wrong when all her husbands drop like flies. Mrs. Peacock’s (Eileen Brennan) flighty behavior conceals a savvy sense of greed. Mr. Green (Micheal McKean) claims to be a government bureaucrat desperate to conceal his homosexuality. Finally, Miss Scarlett (Lesley Ann Warren) runs a D.C. brothel, and could demolish powerful men with her secrets.
This sketchy group comes together at the behest of Wadsworth (Tim Curry). He’s the high-strung butler who acts as a posh master of ceremonies. Also present is Yvette (Colleen Camp), a buxom maid with a few surprising skills. These two work for Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), a wealthy sleazeball who’s been quietly blackmailing these houseguests. Now, Mr. Boddy has all his prey under one roof. Does he want to toy with them? Extort more money? All of the above? In any case, everyone present has a motive to kill him.
What happens next should surprise no one: The lights flicker, thunder claps, and…Mr. Boddy falls dead! Merde–there’s been a murder! Now, everyone’s a suspect, and anyone could be next. It doesn’t help that Mr. Boddy menacingly passed out a cache of potential weapons (a revolver, a wrench, a rope, etc.), only to get whacked by one of them.
So, it falls to Wadsworth to lead a desperate investigation. More bodies begin to pile up. Every answer seems to bring more questions. By the end, the mystery has grown hopelessly convoluted.
At this point, you might wonder how a movie based on a board game could support a feature-length story. Well, the truth is…it can’t. Writer-director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) has to tack three endings onto this sum’bitch, with each more baffling than the last. (Does anyone watch a mystery to learn what might have happened?) Even with that cushy padding, Clue feels a little lean.
The film’s biggest asset lies with its deep roster of character actors. It’s like they plucked the 80s cast of Hollywood Squares and dumped them into a murder mystery. And I mean that in the best way: Everybody’s clearly having boodles of fun, and that starts with Tim Curry. He mugs and sweats and sprints around the spooky mansion, earning every dime of his salary along the way. Clue has slowly earned cult status, and Curry’s wacky performance has a lot to do with that.
All the other players commit just as hard. We’ll start with Mull, who makes a blustery, pompous Colonel Mustard, while Warren plays Miss Scarlett as a sultry vixen who might be too smart for her own good. Lloyd turns Professor Plum into an incompetent jackass, and Kahn renders her black widow to perfection. Every actor plays their silly part with deadly seriousness, and it’s the perfect combination.
With all that said, Clue has never been my bag. Maybe it’s how the characters cartoonishly race around the house, like they’re in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Maybe it’s how some of Lynn’s gags don’t quite land. (We get not one, but multiple falling chandelier jokes.) Most likely, it’s the indulgence of packing on three endings. There’s a reason the original game ends by reading the contents of an envelope. We just want to know the killer, the room, and the weapon. Two bonus endings (complete with silent movie intertitles) make the movie a little too cute. Some people adore Clue, and can watch it over and over. Alas, I am not one of them.
97 minutes. PG. Amazon Video.