Clue is funny, witty, and absolutely crazy enough to be a successful movie based on a board game.
Madeline Kahn died far too soon.
Clue is essentially a film bereft of story. Clue is a film which offers three alternative endings which are all potentially valid. However, as a means of achieving this feat, it means that the entire sense of story development is obsolete. There is a sense of character development that goes on, but there is no genuine plot progression as the story has to retain a certain level of mysterious ambiguity in which any of the characters could have perpetrated the murder at the heart of the story. As impressive as this is to pull off and still have a good film, it just puts into perspective how thin the narrative is. There are so many characters who are intentionally thinly sketched comic archetypes who maintain greater value for the gimmicks of the actors in the role than anything else and luckily enough the film is clever enough to work it way around this in many ways, but when you really think about it there is no story at the heart of Clue, and the rapid attempt to explain things at the end can prove a little too fast to completely fathom.
That being said, Clue was a wonderful movie. Maintaining a plot which keeps its ambiguity so consistently in any film is difficult, but in one where the ambiguity has to leave an ending open to three possibilities is a genuine challenge. Without hesitation, director Jonathan Lynn proves himself up to the challenge in an impressive directorial debut. Though the story doesn't have any genuine development, the screenplay keeps the material lively because it is packed with many zinger one-liners for the cast to work with and a lot of slapstick to ensure that the film is funny on the surface level. The writing in the film loosely strings a plot together before it lets the natural energy of the film take over and develop itself, and more often than not, that is enough to distract viewers from the shortcomings. For me, I got lost in the delightful dark comedy mood of the film and the way that it put a classical film style on a whodunit narrative device with an ensemble of brilliant cast members.
Like I said, there is plenty of funny slapstick moments in the film, even if the humour comes from sadistic plot points that would not often be considered funny. The gags are all given a brilliant visual edge because of the natural sense of style in the film. Building off the beautiful scenery and extensive production design, Clue easily creates the feeling of a Vincent Price horror film like House on the Haunted Hill due to its sense of isolation in the atmosphere and sophisticated stylish edge. And though the film has the dark appeal of a neo-noir, there is an understated but clear sense of colour that emanates from the experience thanks to the beautiful sense of costume design and production setup. This lightens the mood a little bit and contrasts with the darker nature of much of the narrative, reflecting the silly humour in the face of a murder story through a visual medium. Clue is cleverly constructed because it uses a limited collection of settings but emphasizes them with strong production values and atmospheric cinematography.
And like I said, the cast in Clue really do a wonderful job.
Tim Curry's performance is the greatest thing about Clue. Taking on the role of the fast-talking Wadsworth, Tim Curry has the most fun of any cast member. While they all attempt to balance taking the story seriously and using comic charm, Tim Curry flagrantly throws it all out there with an over the top performance the just flashes comic passion and charisma like a spotlight. Saying every word at breakneck speed with complete understanding of everything he has to talk about, Tim Curry steals the screen with an ecstatic determination to capture the hearts of audiences. As the film goes on, he just gets better until he fuels audiences with a hilarious climax which pushes him to go at the fastest speed he can while delivering every line with energetic comic grace. His effort is magnificent and one of his greatest screen performances to date, perhaps his funniest outside of his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Christopher Lloyd also makes a wonderful effort. As an actor experiencing his heyday in the 1980's, the man is a distinctive celebrity of the decade and therefore brings a sense of welcome notoriety along with him to the part. His voice is always so serious and yet his material is comical, allowing him to establish a Leslie Nielsen gimmick about him which he uses to bounce energy off the other cast members. Christopher Lloyd's natural charm is a certainty as an asset to Clue, and his brisk ability to stay intense yet speedy with his sense of humour is exactly what the film needs more of.
Leslie Ann Warren makes a notable presence about herself with a slick sense of seductive charm, as does Madeline Kahn whose darkly restrained performance makes her a figure of intrigue at the heart of the whodunit narrative. Martin Mull is also funny, and it's great to see Leslie Ann Warren continuing to flex her comedic muscles many years on from her heyday because her determination to keep up with the mood of the film ensures that viewers see her maintain the same natural spirit that she's always had.
So Clue may have a thin narrative so that it can successfully get away with marketing its twist ending gimmick, but the constant sense of energy in the film keeps it all alive with Tim Curry and the rest of the cast delivering plenty of clever one-liners and slapstick to sustain the atmosphere all the way from beginning to end.