DVD Review: No Clue (2013)

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An affectionately made feature length Film Noir comedy, No Clue initially starts out like a Canadian cross between Andy Richter’s tragically short-lived Andy Barker, P.I. and HBO’s Bored to Death (minus the pot and kink fueled literary scene).

Yet thanks to both the impressive big screen quality technical specs (that elevate the small screen style work from indie obscurity into something much more cinematic) as well as the likability of Brent Butt’s unlikely “Average Joe” turned faux private dick hero Leo Falloon, Clue grows much stronger as it continues and relies on the strength of its own voice.

A small screen sitcom treasure in his native Canada due to the success of his two hit series, Corner Gas– which is likely getting its own feature adaptation – and Hiccups, Butt who produced and starred in No Clue also wrote its banter and Noir homage filled script.

For those (like this reviewer) unfamiliar with Butt's technique, it took awhile to get used to his flat Bob Newhart-like delivery mixed together with the film’s rapid-fire approach.

And while the speed of the dialogue was most likely inspired by screwball comedies popular during the Noir heyday, the more jokes Butt throws at the dartboard, the more bull’s-eyes the former comedian lands onscreen, despite seemingly a bit lost without the audible laughter of a studio or comedy club audience to make him feel more at ease.

Nonetheless, he’s so darn affable and his knowledge of the material is undeniably genuine that it’s relatively easy to hang in there until the film picks up momentum. And that it does, gathering enough speed to threaten to fly off the rails to the point that (despite a wonderfully funny second act), the editor hurries to wrap up the surprisingly complicated mystery in about half the screen time they should’ve allotted to make sure every clue, quote or plot strand was grasped by the viewer.

Needless to say, rather than Hercule Poirot style drawing room speechmaking, exposition and theatrics, No Clue is aiming to comically send up the terse realism of men like Marlowe, Hammer and Spade.

However, when you contrast the fast fact-filled conclusion with the meandering start, you do wish another pass would’ve been taken either at the script stage or in the editing room to ensure the whole thing flowed with as much innovative humor and imagination as we witnessed in its rather terrific second act that left us with little doubt why Butt is a star.

A specialty advertising salesman who deals in key fob, pen and “token” real estate, Butt's Leo is stunned when Amy Smart’s Kyra – “a smoldering tower of nuclear hottitude” – mistakenly walks into his office instead of the private investigator’s suite across the hall.

Emotionally distraught and worried about the whereabouts of her video game designer brother who’s recently gone missing – Leo is soon seduced into helping her against all logic, even if it is laundry night and he only gets machine access on the one night she enlists his help.

While the audience isn’t fooled for a minute that there’s something rotten in Denmark about the manipulative mystery woman, it takes the lovesick pen salesman a bit longer to catch on as he finds himself stumbling into a much bigger Noir mystery of double identities, misinformation and shadowy figures.

From riffs and name drops like (Maltese) Falcon Street and a company named Glass Key (after a terrific Veronica Lake picture of the popular private eye period), Butt’s solid script proves he’s well-versed in the world he’s using as creative fodder.

Likewise from the opening credit sequence that lovingly celebrates the rich tradition of detective thrillers with a creative cartoon pulp fiction comic book style credit sequence and onward, No Clue plays doubly well with Film Noir enthusiasts looking to play Where’s Waldo while spotting influences as they watch.

While it does what it can to avoid the limits of its modest budget, director Carl Bessai relies on his vast experience to turn what could’ve been a borderline B-picture spoof into one that – much like the guy pretending to be Bogart-like – longs to transcend B-status to join the A-crowd.

An official selection from the L.A. Comedy Festival, while the film may begin with a few hiccups and has an ending that flies by so fast that you might just need to take a second look, it’s not only well-made but backed up by a talented supporting cast whose combined energy help you overlook its flaws.

Moreover No Clue proves that in stark contrast to its title, its creator Brent Butt is not only clued into the genre he’s saluting but also eager to serve as a tour guide to take us down its shadowy streets filled with beguiling blondes and corporate cover-ups… laundry night be damned.

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