Times Staff Writer

The best version of “Clue” (citywide) is the one you’re not going to get to see.

It’s being released with three different endings, but only the version prepared specially for critics offers all of them, one after the other. It’s a shame, because the notion that a whodunit can just as easily have one ending as another is the perfect finish for what is intended as a spoof of the genre--and “Clue” needs all the splash and gimmickry it can get.

As a butler at a great gloomy Victorian Gothic mansion, Tim Curry has an insinuating manner and an unflagging energy that are the film’s strongest assets outside production designer John Lloyd’s antique-filled sets. Summoned there for dinner are Eileen Brennan’s fussy socialite (Mrs. Peacock), Madeline Kahn’s five-time widow (Mrs. White), Christopher Lloyd’s psychiatrist (Prof. Plum), Michael McKean’s gay State Department official (Mr. Green), Martin Mull’s blustery colonel (Col. Mustard) and Lesley Ann Warren’s flashy madam (Miss Scarlet).


They’re all being blackmailed, presumably by their host who presumably is this nasty tough guy, played by an aptly cast Lee Ving, the punk rock star. You can’t say anything for certain about anybody or anything except that the guests have lots of secrets to hide--and that virtually everyone who comes into contact with them in the course of the film winds up dead.

Inspired by the Parker Brothers board game of the same name, “Clue” is more frenetic than funny, more strained than suspenseful or scary. In fact, it’s not the least bit scary or suspenseful but instead quickly grows tedious. The more you struggle to keep track of the constantly multiplying plot developments, the harder it gets to care who did it.

At the same time it’s no more satisfying as a comedy than it is as a mystery. Writer-director Jonathan Lynn, with an assist on the story from John Landis, has come up with a bevy of clues but precious little in the way of comic characterizations for his talented cast to run with, although Curry does get to toss off a lengthy plot summary with the aplomb of a seasoned Gilbert and Sullivan performer. Lesley Ann Warren can make you sit up and take notice, and so can Colleen Camp as a bosomy French maid with a wonderfully phony accent, but everybody else is left to thrash about in shtick . There’s a laugh here and a laugh there, but without that three-ply finish, “Clue” (rated PG for the piling up of corpses) really hasn’t much going for it.