Clue

“Communism was just a red herring.”

Clue
Clue

If you’ve ever seen Murder by Death and had your hopes disappointed, I should hope Clue would provide adequate remedy. Based on the boardgame Cluedo, the story revolves around a (multiple) murder mystery in a large mansion, with the classic game elements—the weapons, the rooms, the secret passages—rather forcibly woven into the story. Whether you consider it a send-up of the murder mystery genre or a spoof on the boardgame, either way Clue is most definitely a comedy.

Yet the success of the film isn’t particularly to do with its story, script or the level of comedy. By themselves, none of these elements would prove much of a boon, although each in its own right is perfectly adequate to the task. The reason Clue works so well, where Murder by Death failed so miserably is through simple, good-natured fun. This combination of a simple plot, a decent screenplay, a little light music refreshment, and some decent acting makes it work, and where it succeeds most of all is in how it engages the viewer. It succeeds in creating a great atmosphere full of light-hearted shenanigans and dry humour. The script is pretty amusing on its own, but the efforts of the cast, and the combination of the music and setting serve to make it thoroughly hilarious. Tim Curry honestly deserves a medal for the energy he put into his performance, easily his best outside of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For all its merits, the film was rather unsuccessful, though it enjoys a significant cult following. One of the more interesting aspects of the film was its employment of true multiple endings, with only one being shown, dependent on the cinema. Naturally all of the endings are available on the DVD release. Yet it would be interesting to imagine what might have happened had Clue enjoyed more box office success. It’s not uncommon for films to feature half-hearted extra endings on the DVD editions these days, though these really tend to be more of a gimmicky extra than anything else.

Ultimately, the proof that Clue works so well as a film is in the rewatching. Despite knowing all the jokes, all the slapstick, every twist and turn, the film is frankly still as funny, cheerful and enjoyable as the first time round. With a few drinks and a few friends, it’s a great way to spend an evening!

Top Gun

Top Gun
Top Gun

“It’s too close for missiles. I’m switching to guns!”

This film wouldn’t normally make it onto a list of films I like, but it makes it onto this one for the number of times I’ve actually been persuaded to watch it. Top Gun is the true blue cheese of cheesy films. Everything about the film reeks of it, Tom Cruise’s cocky prodigy pilot character, the sleaziness in wooing the love interest, an emotional death scene, a euphoric victory scene, a smattering of cool high-fives, a bit of intense rivalry with some more macho meatheads, and the usual faceless bad guys. 1The bad MiGs are black, the good Tomcats white, the Russian pilots act like machines behind their tinted visors, the good guys have faces and names.

Somehow, though, Top Gun remains watchable despite the oodles of complaints you could make. To the film’s credit, the action sequences are pretty decent, and the soundtrack is pure 80s delight, perhaps one of the greatest of the decade, from Hans Zimmerman’s glorious theme tune, to the epic sappiness of Berlin’s overplayed Take My Breath Away with some great tunes from Kenny Loggins along the way. And on the bad side? Pretty much everything else! The film is formula cliché from start to finish. It runs on a par with the more recent Armageddon, yet for precisely the same reason that that film plumetted, Top Gun remains watchable over two decades on. Perhaps part of that is the pure 80s nostalgia, combined with that cheeky Tom Cruise grin. Or perhaps it’s all down to the homoeroticism of the male leads, the meatheaded environment, the infamous beach volleyball scene, and that utterly cringeworthy exchange between Cruise and Kilmer (You can be my wingman any time. / Bullshit! You can be mine). Who can say?

Top Gun is no thinking man’s film, for if you try you’ll end up spending the entire time thinking about the film’s flaws. That I’ve watched part of the film in a language I didn’t understand and still somehow felt there was something to enjoy is fair testament to how the film can get by on soundtrack and visuals alone. There should be a warning on the box telling viewers to turn their brains off before watching. But if you can manage it, you’ll enjoy this film for being everything a film shouldn’t be, and getting away with it!

Die Hard

Die Hard
Die Hard

“Oh my God, the quarterback is TOAST!”

This film rightly tops out as my daddy of rewatchables! Die Hard has everything a decent action film needs: a likeable hero, some slick bad guys, thrilling action sequences, a smooth plot, an excellent script, and a director who knows how to put it all together and build up the tension. Of course there are plenty of films that have some or even all of these elements, but Die Hard has that magic that makes the film gel into something greater than its parts.

It probably isn’t for everyone, and it’s another which helps having a few friends round to watch, but the film is otherwise as slick as an oil spill. Alan Rickman is perhaps one of the most likeable bad guys to play against Bruce Willis’ roguish, quick-thinking cop character. In fact, the actors generally do a good job, in large part helped by the film’s script. There are so many witty little one-liners, or classic exchanges, that the film at times borders on comedy. Certainly that means the few moments of tension the film produces are often rather side-lined by the interchange, but perhaps that’s precisely why watching this film again almost loses nothing of the first viewing. It’s pretty impossible to build tension when you know what’s going to happen next, but the dialogue is as enjoyable on a second viewing as it is on the first, if not more so. And nearly every character has his line!

Of course it’s an action film, and that demands a share of fight scenes, shooting and big explosions, but Die Hard‘s director John McTiernan knows his business, and makes everything fit within a storyline which actually works for a change. It might be a work of pure fiction, but the plot is realistic enough, and importantly it’s pretty believable. There are virtually no moments that jar against our concepts of realism, nothing to tear you out of enjoying the film to have to think “hold on a moment, that’s rubbish”. All the while, the film escalates nicely, as hero John McClane goes from dealing with one terrorist, then a bunch of terrorists, right up to having to fob off the FBI single-handed.

All in all, Die Hard is a damn entertaining film, which is just so well put together, that it rides top of my list of films worth watching again and again. Yippee-ki-yay!

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1. The bad MiGs are black, the good Tomcats white, the Russian pilots act like machines behind their tinted visors, the good guys have faces and names.