Directed by: Carl Bessai
Written by: Brent Butt
Starring: Brent Butt, Amy Smart, David Koechner, Kristen Prout
Leo Falloon (Brent Butt) is an advertising salesman who sells pens, mugs, and all manner of trinkets with any company’s logo on them. He works down the hall from a Private Detective who has taken a few weeks off and, by chance, a damsel in distress has mistakenly acquired his services to find her brother who may have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Although Leo is completely in over his head amidst murder, thieves, and corporate takeovers, it is the excitement in his humdrum life, and the dames that keeps pulling him back in.
Brent Butt is arguably the most famous face on Canadian TV. His television series Corner Gas ruled CTV for 6 years cracking through Canada’s top 20 TV series which is generally dominated with all American shows, not including Hockey Night In Canada. Helping bring the term Staycation from the almost unknown article in a Myrtle Beach paper to the hearts and minds of the world, his social impact has been greater than you think.
Here, Brent takes aim at Cinema Noir, by way of The Man who Knew too Little. A bumbling, out of his depths, salesman thrown head first in the middle of murder and corporate espionage, surrounded by sultry women who are out for themselves, all against the sometimes grimy, always beautiful backdrop of Vancouver. With nods to the Maltese Falcon, and Double Indemnity, No Clue is full with all the pieces a noir film needs: Back Alley shakedowns, long-legged dames, neon lit bars, greasy hotel rooms, and even greasier motel rooms; double-crosses, and a score so thik with smoke that you could choke a Made Man.
But, at its heart, No Clue is a comedy. Brent Butt’s script is tight with one-liners, sight gags, and all manner of farce. Harmless jokes that are never meant to be mean, the film and its characters are likeable. The familiarity between Leo and his best bud Ernie are a joy to watch; with their delightfully offensive greetings to each other, to Ernie’s constant questioning of whether Leo’s “client” has asked about him, is a delight. Never does the comedy take too much time from the mystery story-line; they feel like soft character asides coming from people who have nothing but jokes to get them through all that murder and back-stabbing that most people would have run from.
Clearly a love letter to Vancouver, No Clue wants you to know it is in B.C. and complete with our coloured money and strict gun laws it takes you out of a Granville Street Skytrain Station through the neon of Hastings street, the rain-slicked dumpster-filled alleys, and finally deep into the black ops to make it in the Vancouver video game industry. Perhaps the helicopter shots are a bit much at times; so many in fact, that one wonders if they were used to fill time. Still, beautifully shot and coupled with the always brilliant work of Composer Schaun Tozer, who gave us the grime-filled music for the Vancouver based TV series Da Vinci’s Inquest, as well as music for the film Hard Core Logo, you have all you need for a modern day noir.
Brent Butt’s portrayal of the frumpy, novelty advertising salesman bumbling his way through sexual encounters, and gun fights is relatable and a joy to watch. Using a joke to diffuse a situation, or a comment to hide his confusion, we enjoy our time with this fish out of water. The loveable doofus caught up in an extraordinary situation because, being Canadian, he just cant find the right time to break this woman’s heart and tell her that he is not a detective.
Amy Smart plays Kyra, the woman-in-peril cum professional thief. She has the sexuality of this age-old archetype down; the come-hither walk, the longing looks, the flip of the hair. But, unfortunately, one is never too sure if Smart was actually given any direction on the delivery of her lines. Brent Butt’s well written scripted sentences come out of her mouth in the order that they need saying; you are aware that there is intention that she is duping the other characters, or playing one person off another, but she never seems truly capable of selling it. The key to good noir is the subtleties of the tone of voice, the hint in the eyes telling the true story, the way someone stands compared to whom they are conversing, and poor poor Amy appears to have been largely unschooled on these intricacies. When she hits it right, she is lovely, and the rest of the time she appears as if she is just hitting her marks.
Anchorman’s David Koechner is a nice addition to the film. As Leo’s best friend (and apparently only friend), and Man-Friday Ernie, we see a pro working with what he has. Since this is Leo’s film Koechner is not centre stage as he is often used; throwing ad-libbed lines at the camera until they yell cut- here we see a comedic genius stepping into a role, knowing exactly what he needs to do and delivering with the exact amount of gusto needed. As most Canadian films find it hard to reach the global market without some American heavy to tout in the by-line, not only does Koechner deliver on that promise he also brings his comedic gravitas to the proceedings.
Because this is also a crime thriller the bigger question is, Does the mystery work? It does, the clues sprinkled throughout the film by way of props or characters are clean, smart, and just vague enough to keep one guessing. The movement from one set-piece to another to find more clues, or bodies, or fist-fights work logically within the means of the world Butt & Bessai have created, but it is in the Denouement where the film breaks.
After so many twists and turns the story leads to what probably would have accounted to a 2nd act climax; the audience, even if they have not put all the pieces together, know that this altercation is not confronting the culprit, but should be the delivery of the last full twist of the film. Yet, after a fun and funny fight between the “Tough” and Leo, we find ourselves learning the information we already know and assume the final act will continue, instead we get a conversation between our hapless hero and the troublesome dame explaining the clues and who the real killer was. No confrontation, no race to the finish. The joke is not lost on us that Leo can finally call the police to take over the case as he has wont to do the entire time, but sorry guys, not enough.
As a comedy the film works well, as a mystery, save the for the apparent climax it is a solid story littered with great clues, some on the nose, some deliciously subtle. But, like I said, before, at its heart, No Clue is a comedy, and it does that quite well. The awkward pacing of the final act is not enough to deter from a thoroughly enjoyable theatre going experience.
Check you the trailer here