It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone likes Tim Curry. I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t love him, and it has been said that you can tell a lot about a person from what film they most know him from. So, when someone offered to lend me a film starring Tim Curry, based on a classic board game, how could I say no?
That board game in question is known in the US and indeed identified here as Clue. I know it better by its UK title ‘Cluedo’ but I think this may be a rare instance of me preferring the US title to the UK one, it rolls off the tongue easier, and it’s appropriate for the content, you hunt clues in the game. ‘Cluedo’ isn’t even really a word.
All that being said, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to adapt a board game to an actual feature film. Most of them aren’t exactly high on story content. Fair enough there’s the basis of a story in this game, a murder has occurred and we have to figure out who did it, but we’re given no more context than that. It’s not obvious why these people are in the house, or even really who they are.
Imagine trying to make a film adaptation of Monopoly where the main characters are a boot, a car and a top hat, it’s the same principle. Even though we know the names of the characters, we know nothing about them. But this movie bravely attempts to add character anyway.
Set in the 1950s on a particularly stormy night; a group of apparent strangers all receive invitations to a dinner party being thrown by an unknown host. After their arrival, it becomes obvious that they’re all embroiled in an elaborate con, and when an unexplained murder happens right in front of their eyes, they must try to piece together what happened, before the police arrive.
There is a popular form of theatrical entertainment here in the UK known as pantomime. It is usually performed near Christmas and is, more often than not, a high-camp, slapstick affair that utilises a lot of audience participation, and frequent cross-dressing (the leading boy character is traditionally portrayed by a female actor, and there is always a ‘dame’ an exaggerated character who is always a man dressed as a woman). I bring this up as it feels like the closest possible thing I can compare Clue to; with the big difference being, I usually have fun watching a pantomime.
It’s not that Clue isn’t camp, and irreverent, because it is, but it is also very wooden and stilted with a wildly wavering tone that never seems to know whether it wants to be taken seriously.
I suspect there may have been a disagreement at some point, maybe between the director and producer, or some other entities, surrounding the tone and content of the film, wherein one party wanted to make a camp, slapstick farce, while the other wanted to make an involved, convoluted whodunnit, and they had to strain to meet in the middle; and if that isn’t the case, then it certainly feels like it was.
The inconsistent tone is what kills the film from out of the gate, as you don’t know what level of satire the film is operating on. It uses a lot of clichés, but is it using them in a way to poke fun at itself? Or just using them because its writers didn’t know any better. This is the thing with self-referential comedy, the audience needs to know what the film is trying to convey, otherwise, we get lost in the tone of the film.
Take, for example, Airplane! This was a film made on the back of an influx of plane-based disaster films, to lampoon their content, it’s brilliantly done and executed in such a way that the audience is in on the joke and fully aware that it’s being played for laughs. Clue could have been something similar, but it fails to commit fully to its ridiculous nature to be seen as such.
Which is why as a whole, the film completely falls flat, tying itself in knots trying to make a convoluted plot seem engaging when really all its doing is creating troubles for itself. No time is spent on character development, we’re given no reason to care about the deaths portrayed, because we don’t care about the characters.
It’s not for lack of trying either, the cast is doing their absolute best to make the tripe they’ve been saddled with work, hamming it up and chewing the scenery to the best of their ability. It again brings into focus just how much of a mess this film is, the actors are there working their comedic muscles until they’re about to drop off, while the film still has pretensions of rivalling an Agatha Christie tale.
I feel as though Clue is a movie that would have seemed aged and worn out when it was first released, never mind in the cursed year 2020, bringing its flaws into even sharper focus. It’s safe to say the years have not been kind, even if it wasn’t considered all that good in the first place.
Not only does it seem antiquated, but it’s a waste of good talent too. Tim Curry seems to be enjoying hamming it up (which is why we all love him in the first place) and Christopher Lloyd is also along for the ride, not that his character is anything consequential, he’s just there, proving once again just what a waste of good celluloid this film is.
I know it’s from a different era, but I fear this film never really stood a chance with the script it had. Wooden, inconsistent and just generally bloody awful, it feels like the work of writers who’d never attempted comedy or mystery before but were convinced that it couldn’t be that hard.
Not funny enough to be a spoof, not thrilling enough to be a mystery, Clue is just a stone-cold dud that misuses its talented cast in the most egregious of ways. There’s a good reason people prefer to remember Rocky Horror or IT when they think of Tim Curry. A film killed by the writer, with a typewriter, in the study.