If any board game was ripe for a film adaptation, Cluedo is it, able to combine all the elements of a classic whodunit with the chance for some black comedy. Set in 1954, Clue sees a group blackmail victims being called by mysterious, anonymous letters to a Gothic pile in the country by the butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry). Under assumed aliases, Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs White (Madeline Kahn), Mrs Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mr Green (Michael McKeen), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), are all present to confront their blackmailer, the aptly named Mr Boddy (Lee Ving) when a murder occurs and they must work together with the staff to solve it.
While the film is adapted from the board game, it also allows the film-makers to produce an unsubtle spoof of Agatha Christie-style whodunits, right from the gathering of the characters to the exceptionally contrived ways in which they are all connected and the way in which they are dispatched (the deaths are all inspired by Christie's Ten Little Indians). The big reveal depends upon which version of the film you select or if you have the video version which has all three possibilities in the film itself. The film also plays into its historical context very well, with the presence of the FBI and McCarthyism forming the motives behind the various characters.
The film clearly has a great deal of affection for its source material, playing up everything from the characters, the rooms and the infamous weapons to create an amusing realisation of the game. One neat touch is the way the floor of the hall reflects the game playing board itself. Great fun is had in fleshing out the characters; for example, Mrs White becomes a black widow with five dead husbands, Miss Scarlet is a brothel madam with Colonel Mustard partaking of her services. The performances are the standout in the film, with Tim Curry especially at his hammy best as the butler and Madeline Kahn all wonderfully dark and mysterious as the serial widow.
With a script written in part by John Landis, my expectations were slightly higher than they perhaps should have been as the film doesn't quite meet them. On the positive side, there are some wonderful comic scenes, particularly in the sequence where each character is trapped in a different room of the house while three murders take place. There are also some very funny one-liners, particularly from Wadsworth who pretty much steals the show. But, moments like this are littered through the film but unfortunately, there just aren't enough for it to be consistently funny.
The film is quite uneven in tone, veering between very silly and an attempt at an intelligent parody, never deciding which extreme it wants to be more. The scene in which Wadsworth is revealing the events of the night is the classic example of this. Although the sequence is a fairly accurate spoof of the Agatha Christie drawing room moment, the manic aspect of the scene is just a little too ridiculous to be funny. It's a shame because the murder mystery is surely a genre that is so familiar it can be easily parodied but unfortunately, some jokes fail to hit the mark and, as a consequence, it feels as if the film wasted some of its potential.
Clue strikes me as the type of film that, like Labyrinth from an earlier column, will be beloved of the fans who grew up with it. It's silly enough to appeal to a slightly younger audience with jokes that they would appreciate growing up with the film. I did enjoy my viewing of it but it just didn't hit the mark quite as often as it should for me.