In the first ten minutes of “Clue,” writer Jonathan Flynn (“My Cousin Vinny”) tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re in for. As Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren, “Victor/Victoria”) and Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd, “Back to the Future”) drive up to the mysterious mansion that serves as the setting for the story, their car stops near the gate. After a dramatic flash of lightning, Miss Scarlet asks, “Why has the car stopped?” “It’s frightened,” whispers Professor Plum. Jokes like these demonstrate that “Clue” is not only a whodunit mystery, but a film that is eccentric, cheesy and an overall delightful experience.
When “Clue” was first released theatrically in 1985, I have to assume that people were confused. Why, one might ask, would someone take a board game with no distinct plot and turn it into a movie? In the number of times I have played a game of Clue, I have never thought, “Man I wish this board game had a full-length feature film based on it.” Yet, such a film exists and has entertained, as well as perplexed audiences for 35 years.
Every time I watch “Clue,” I find it funnier than the last time I watched it, as I pick up on the crass jokes that went over my head when I was younger. For this reason, I was excited to see that the Michigan Theater was showing “Clue” as part of their “Whodunnit Wednesdays” series this month.
The film’s premise stays true to the game, including the same six main characters: Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn, “Young Frankenstein”), Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennen, “Private Benjamin”) and Mr. Green (Michael McKean, “This Is Spinal Tap”). A semblance of plot is added through additional characters, specifically Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving, “Flashdance”) who blackmails each character with sensitive information, and Wadsworth (Tim Curry, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), the archetypal butler, who brings the group together with the intention of exposing Mr. Boddy’s scheme.
Due to the limiting nature of the source material, the plot feels forced at times, filled with heavy-handed attempts to remind you that, yes, this movie was based on a board game. For example, when Mr. Boddy hands each character one of the iconic weapons from the game (a rope, a wrench, a lead pipe, a revolver, a candlestick and a knife), we shouldn’t be surprised that he is almost immediately murdered.
Beyond the somewhat ludicrous plotline, there are a number of redeeming qualities that make “Clue” truly enjoyable. The all-star cast, for example, does an excellent job using the witty dialogue to their advantage — Curry in particular, whose rapid-fire recreation of the night’s events near the end of the film is an incredibly funny sequence that is made all the better by the comical music accompanying the scene. Another is the costumes — Miss Scarlet’s dramatic coat and Mrs. Peacock’s bejeweled cat-eye glasses add a touch of extravagance and flair to the film.
The real star of the film, however, is its wit and dark humor. There’s a reason “Clue” has been a cult classic for so long: It follows the typical “Whodunnit” format while filling the time between murders with physical gags, clever quips and satirical subversions of the genre. If “Clue” ignored the oddness of its premise, it would have been a movie that took itself too seriously; instead, “Clue” embraces everything that is weird about it, and the effect is delightful.