Friday, August 2, 2019

Clue Is Easily The Best Film Adaptation of a Toy (Exempting The LEGO Movie)

Movies based on toys haven't taken off to the same extreme as comic books or TV shows since, like video games, artistic properties that place most control over to the audiences tend to be difficult to translate into a more strictly molded medium of storytelling like film. Still, we have seen our fair share of movies based on toys, especially in the last twelve years since Transformers became a box office juggernaut. Before most of those motion pictures came Clue, one of the very first movies to be based on a toy. A 1985 directorial effort from Johnathan Lynn, Clue took the characters and murder mystery set-up of the original 1949 board game of the same name and in the process took what could have been a cashgrab for Hasbro into something mighty hysterical.

Six individuals have been invited for a dinner at Hill House. If you've played the Clue board game, you're likely familiar with these people, whose true identities are concealed under fake names. Going under the monikers Ms. Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Prof. Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Mrs. Peacock (Ellen Brennan) and Mr. Green (Michael McKean). Helpful butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry) welcomes them into the house and quickly reveals that there is more going on here than just a simple dinner party. All six of these people are being blackmailed by a nefarious Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), who, shortly after confronting the people he's blackmailing, winds up dead during a brief power outage.

Since he was killed in the dark, the seven people in the house have no clue who could have killed Mr. Boddy. Now everyone has to work together in figuring out who could be the culprit while keeping various strangers who stop by the house from seeing the steadily growing pile of dead bodies in the house. Johnathan Lynn's script is utterly brilliant in fulfilling the requirements for making a movie based on the Clue board game (the locations and murder weapons from the game are here in addition to characters like Col. Mustard) but taking those existing elements into something that can stand on its own. Clue the movie is no toy commercial, instead, it's a mixture of an Agatha Christie murder mysteries and classic screwball comedies.

I don't think anyone while playing the Clue board game would imagine that a film adaptation of the property would turn out to be a macabre comedy but such boldness in its creative vision is partly why Clue works as well as it does, it's setting out to fulfill its own idea of what is funny rather than adhering to whatever would constitute as fan service to die-hard Clue fans. Even better, it manages to balance out its contrasting tonal elements of murder mystery and comedy with finesse. I was constantly surprised with the unpredictable directions the plot takes thanks to the way Clue embraces doing unabashedly and enjoyably ridiculous plot turns. There really is no telling where these characters and their hunt for the murderer will take them!

Hewing to more over-the-top sensibilities in the murder mystery part of the story allows for the rampant dark humor to exist peacefully alongside chilling slayings. Even if these two parts of the feature didn't co-exist so peacefully, though, it'd likely be forgivable since Clue is utterly hysterical. There's enough witty wordplay and funny puns in the dialogue here to make The Marx Brothers proud! Much of the humor comes from the totally dedicated performances of the actors assembled for this production. They're all impressively game for the style of wonky comedic Clue makes its bread and butter and they commit to that style as much as the script for Clue commits to appropriately absurd plot revelations.

The whole cast is exceptional, but biggest stand-out's have to be Lesley Ann Warren delivering wonderfully dry wit and a femme fatale pastiche with her take on the character of Mrs. Scarlet and Tim Curry as Wadsworth. In another actors hand, Wadsworth could have an exhausting rather than humorous character, especially in scenes like Wadsworth rapidly recounting the events of the movie in order to reveal who the actual murderer is. But Curry is simply just a hoot to watch in these kinds of rapid-fire comedy sequences, he keeps his characters comedic dialogue coming at such a shockingly rapid pace that it's a wonder we never see Curry pausing to catch his breath! It's true, many movies based on toys aren't exactly top-notch fare, but most of those movies don't have a delightful script or hilarious Tim Curry performance like Clue does!

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