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No Clue feels like a juggling act gone slightly wrong. The film's intent is clear and admirable but there's an undeniable sense that it struggles to keep all its balls in the air. It wants to be a mystery with noirish undertones. It wants to be a subtle comedy except for when it goes for broad laughs. It also wants to be a star vehicle for Brent Butt, a mainstay of the Canadian TV Comedy scene. It wants to be a lot of things but unfortunately its desires exceed its means.
Leo Falloon (Brent Butt) makes his living as a specialty advertising salesman (novelty pens, banners etc.) but all that changes when Kyra (Amy Smart) walks into his office with her tale of woe. She mistakes Leo for the private detective whose office is down the hall and Leo doesn't bother correcting her. She tells him all about her missing brother and how she's concerned for his well-being. Since Leo doesn't have anything going on at the time and thinks Kyra is awfully pretty, he agrees to help her with the investigation.
Pretty soon Leo is in over his head as his investigation enters the cutthroat world of video game design. Kyra's brother worked for two different companies led by cagey and inscrutable men (David Cubitt and Garwin Sanford). To get anything out of them, Leo's going to have to be crafty and resourceful. This means assuming identities, dodging enforcers (Dan Payne) and thinking on his feet like a real fake detective. Along the way he'll lean on his pal Ernie (David Koechner) for all sorts of help and the occasional sardonic comment.
It's easy to see how much Brent Butt has invested in this movie as its writer and star. After earning his stripes on the small screen, he has written himself a leading role in a feature film in the hopes that his success will carry over. Perhaps I'm working at a disadvantage since I'm not familiar with his TV work, but based on this film alone it certainly feels to me like his transition is a rocky one. He has a number of good ideas but by throwing them all at the screen (with the assistance of director Carl Bessai), the resulting film is tonally shaky at best.
The comedic elements veer from subtle and witty to something that wouldn't feel out of place in a Naked Gun movie. Individually a number of the gags are funny (the overwrought narration springs to mind) but taken as a whole they just don't come together. They also have the unfortunate side-effect of undercutting the central mystery which is surprisingly clever enough to have worked on its own (the bit about the unusual matchbox is a nice clue). A sharper focus would have produced a tighter film but what we have here is a much looser affair getting by on its sporadically dopey charm.
Helping the film along are its central performances. Amy Smart is excellent as the femme fatale who is keeping our hero on a need to know basis. She has the right blend of vulnerability and mystique to make her character feel believable. David Koechner is fine as Leo's pal but given the fact that so many of their scenes take place in a vacuum away from the rest of the film's cast, they feel tacked on (perhaps to up the comedy quotient).
As the film's lead, Brent Butt is goofy and earnest and just a bit smarter than anyone else expects him to be. Since he is intimately familiar with the tone he is targeting, he is able to hold together a number of scenes that would have otherwise fallen flat. With that said, his wry low-key delivery occasionally works against him causing certain gags to miss their mark by a fair margin. It's the same schizophrenic motif that runs through the film. When it works, it's actually kind of fun. When it doesn't, it just seems confused.
The anamorphic widescreen image is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Other than a touch of moiré in a couple of scenes, this is a fairly clean and sharp presentation. Shadow detail is decent and even flesh tones support the natural look of the film. The clever noir-themed animated opening credits also start the film off with a lot of visual panache.
The audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix with optional English SDH subtitles. The film's score, courtesy of Schaun Tozer, is a nice blend of old school mystery and high-stakes spy shenanigans. It's energetic and fun and amply supported by the lively surround mix. Fortunately it doesn't drown out the dialogue which comes through loud and clear at all times.
There are two major extras. The first is a Behind the Scenes featurette (~11 min) that gives us plenty of cast and crew interviews intercut with footage from the film. There is much talk of giving Vancouver its due by setting the film in the city that it is actually being shot in. Brent Butt even discusses his desire to find humor in a dark murder mystery without turning it into a zany romp.
The other extra is an Audio Commentary with Brent Butt and director Carl Bessai. This is a low-key but chatty track with both participants carrying on a friendly conversation about the making of the film. They talk about tossing classic film cues into certain scenes and what kind of impact that had on the set design. They aren't above laughing at themselves with Butt mocking his own acting range and pointing out his joy at Bessai creatively framing out his bald spot in an early scene. As commentary tracks go, this one is fun but far from essential.
No Clue can't handle all the weight it is asked to carry. It struggles with being a mystery and a comedy and a vehicle for Brent Butt's talents. It partially succeeds at everything it sets out to do which means that it also partially doesn't. What could be a tightly plotted noir with situational comedic elements ends up being a pleasant (but forgettable) exercise in throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks. Rent It.