Murder, Anyone? is a metafictional treat, a funny and whimsical look at the process of creation. George (Maurice LaMarche) and Charlie (Charles M. Howell IV) are co-writers trying to create the next “avant-garde, surrealistic, mind-bending neo-noir thriller.” A tall order when they disagree on just about every possible twist and turn — including whether their story should be a stageplay or a film. As they write, the story comes to life, sometimes bleeding into their real-world exchanges. There’s a deliciously increasing incoherency to their eventual product as the two butt heads and things start to fall apart before a rousing and thoughtful climax about the layers of creative thought that go into a single work of art.
The film itself is an example of those layers. Director James Cullen Bressack adapted Murder, Anyone? from his late father, Gordon Bressack. The elder Bressack was the Emmy award-winning writer of such animated hits as Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. He was also an avid playwright. Before his father’s passing, James Bressack promised he would adapt some of those plays into movies. Given the nature of the story, this was the perfect place to start: The story is inherently reflexive about the different advantages of the stage versus the screen, and this adaptation gives the crew a chance to really dig into the material’s arguments. It never feels didactic, though. It’s all a lot of fun, a love letter to both forms.
LaMarche, of course, voiced the Brain, the iconic evil-genius mouse in Bressack’s cartoons. He’s one of a few alumni from those productions; Howell was a writer on the shows, too. There’s even a moment where LaMarche lapses into the Brain voice, for attentive fans. The rest of the cast is great, too, playing characters who shift in origin and purpose from scene to scene as their writers argue. Bridgette (Galadriel Stineman) and Cooper (Kristos Andrews) are the main players in the story, with help from many others who filter in and out to give shape to this story within a story. Spencer Breslin, Carla Collins and Sally Kirkland all appear in amorphous roles.
There’s quite a lot going on within Murder, Anyone?, as the walls between George and Charlie’s reality and the world of their creation start to break down. What they ultimately produce might not actually be a good play, but their growing frustration and difficulty are humorously depicted in a deeply recognizable way. The pressure they feel to produce is how it feels working on any creative endeavor, and sometimes it just feels like nothing will work out. The film itself, however, is a clear labor of love for James Cullen Bressack and all involved, as insightful as it is constantly funny and over-the-top ridiculous.