Who Is Cletis Tout? (2001)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Comedy  |   Release Date - Jul 26, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 93 min.  |   Countries - Canada, United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

The minor crime caper Who Is Cletis Tout? was the recipient of such critical guff, it's disarming how mild and inoffensive it actually is. The ads gave the impression of a lot of "goofy name humor," featuring quick takes of various characters uttering the words "Cletis Tout" in rapid succession. And yes, there is a character named "Critical Jim." But this film is more than a lame descendent of the Get Shorty school of pratfalls and pseudonyms -- though sometimes not much more. Writer/director Chris Ver Weil actually sees his story as more of a fairytale, a mode he establishes with the opening jewel heist conducted by an illusionist clown, to the tune of a child's music box. Ver Weil also fancies himself a student of film history, filtering those sensibilities through the character of Tim Allen's hitman, Critical Jim. Not only does Jim quote numerous classic films, but, while holding Christian Slater's Trevor Finch captive as part of a narrative framing device, he also spitballs with Finch about how to make his story more cinematic, including character development and use of the three-act story structure. In this way, Ver Weil's script even pokes fun at its own "cinematic" contrivances. Ver Weil's greatest sin is that his ideas are a little too ambitious for the ho-hum materials he has on hand, or for the jokey B-grade genre with which the film is rightfully affiliated. Also, he doesn't adhere to one of the most fundamental cornerstones of classic Hollywood movies -- that his romantic leads (Slater and Portia de Rossi) must have chemistry. Who Is Cletis Tout? is innocuous enough, but it can't measure up to the movies it worships.