I'm not the only person who thought of 'Clue' while watching 'Flypaper,' but I feel like the only person for whom this is a positive thing. Just imagine 'Clue' remade as a bank robbery movie. Doesn't that sound fun? I thought so. The new film, which had the honor of being the final world premiere of this year's Sundance Film Festival, may not be well executed, too broad for a script that obviously wants to be a very profane and twisted black comedy, but it's not without a silly charm.
Directed by Rob Minkoff ('The Haunted Mansion') from an early script by writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, 'Flypaper' definitely feels like the meeting point of a former Disney animator (Minkoff also co-helmed 'The Lion King') and a duo behind such screenplays as 'Four Christmases' and 'The Hangover.' It's like a live-action cartoon for adults of average intelligence, the kind of fast-paced movie in which a dumb hick criminal (Tim Blake Nelson, doing the bumpkin shtick once again) is blown up by his own explosive device, Wile E. Coyote style, propelling him through the air backgrounded by terribly rendered CG flames.
The heist romp begins with assorted characters, played by familiar character actors like Jeffrey Tambor, Curtis Armstrong, Rob Huebel and Adrian Martinez, as well as stars Patrick Dempsey (also a producer) and Ashley Judd, working or doing business in the giant savings bank that serves as the film's sole setting. Along come not one but two groups of would-be robbers, a bumbling pair of idiots (Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince) that want only to blast open the ATMs, and an experienced and technologically advanced trio (Mekhi Phifer, John Ventimiglia and Matt Ryan) who are after what's in the vault.
With the mediating help of Dempsey, who plays a potentially autistic and certainly OCD customer with a thing for numbers and a keen eye (he has been and will be likened to "Rain Man"), the separate groups of thieves agree to share the bank and hostages. But when people begin dying mysteriously, the whole ensemble begins to wonder if there's at least one other burglar in the bunch. And that's of course where the 'Clue' connection comes in. Were all the characters brought together for a reason? Will Dempsey's fast-talking observer crack the case? Was this the first instance in which Lucas and Moore wrote a character who might be late to his/her wedding (here it's Judd's engaged teller)?
There is a lot about 'Flypaper' that reeks of being a 12-year-old screenplay. Aside from an added Twitter reference here and a joke about faxing versus emailing there, as well as a recession relevance, the film does not come across as very fresh or current. It might have fit in better during the era of 'Palookaville' and 'Happy, Texas' rather than a time when audiences are more into dramatic heist films like 'Inside Man' and 'The Town.' However, there is something clever to the robbery plot as it's ultimately revealed, and Dempsey is in fact a treat to watch as he obsessively and looks for clues and figures out the master plan. He stands out in a cast of otherwise underused (Tambor, Huebel) or overdone (Nelson, Vince) performers. Where 'Clue' mostly worked because of its ensemble, here the players could have been a lot more interesting.
Outside its schematics, 'Flypaper' is somewhat clueless, as it were, and not nearly as funny or wicked as it should be. But I kind of enjoyed what it was going for. During the Q&A that followed the Sundance premiere, someone in the audience brought up the 'Clue' comparison, hopefully asking if this too could have featured multiple outcomes. The way it plays out, the film definitely offers room for such a device. And in spite of the circumstance of being viewed even more derivative of that board game adaptation, it would have been neat to see that kind of ending attempted once again.