On either a little screen or a big screen, Brent Butt comes off as such an affable, regular guy, it's hard to notice how skilled he is as a comedian.
Butt's stealth approach to comedy helps immeasurably in his feature film debut, No Clue, scripted by Butt and directed by Carl Bessai (Lola; Fathers & Sons), especially as it skirts dangerously close to the realm of the dusty old-school "spoof."
Butt plays Leo Falloon, a shlub who makes his living in a Vancouver office building with a novelty ad business, branding pens, mugs and baseball caps with company logos.
It's a thankless, colourless job, lime-green key fobs notwithstanding. So when a beautiful hard-boiled blond named Kyra (Amy Smart) walks into Leo's office, weeping over her missing brother, he can't bring himself to telling her the private investigator she seeks is across the hall. Against all rational instincts, he takes the case.
Leo soon finds himself well in over his head, tracking the "brother," a video-game designer apparently caught in the crossfire between two warring game companies. As Leo blunders his way through his makeshift investigation, he learns that not everyone is whom they claim to be, least of all his client.
As scripted by Butt, the movie actually succeeds in being a decent mystery, one which Butt conceived in the Ellery Queen notion of "fair play": the audience receives all the same clues as the sleuth and therefore should be able to solve the case alongside him.
This kind of Canadian genre lampoon has been done before, most recently in the Canuck-ified Paul Gross western Gunless.
But where that movie milked one self-congratulatory joke -- Canada doesn't festishize/mytholgize guns in the manner of our southern neighbours -- No Clue dispenses with it in a single gag: "What's with all the guns?" Leo complains after having a roscoe pulled on him for the umpteenth time. "This is Canada!"
Instead, this movie offers a solid story and droll -- if not side-splitting -- humour. Bessai and Butt decline to make Leo and Kyra a romantic couple, which was wise. The casting of David Koechner (forever best known as Champ Kind in Anchorman) as Leo's pal Ernie was likewise potentially embarrassing, in the category of gratuitous appearances by American stars in a Canadian movie. But the truth is, Butt and Koechner have a genuine comic rapport.
It's a pleasant surprise. And that can be said for the whole movie, unless you're a Corner Gas fan, in which case, it should be no surprise at all.