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Who Is Cletis Tout?

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Who Is Cletis Tout?

Starring: Christian Slater, Tim Allen
Director: Chris Ver Weil
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: July 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Portia De Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss, RuPaul, Billy Connolly

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

What do writer-directors look for in a caper movie? If the caper involves the theft of jewels as is the case with Chris Ver Wiel's "Who is Cletis Tout?", they'd look for inspiration to the king of the genre, Jules Dassin's "Topkapi" about would-be thieves who plan the perfect crime in an Istanbul museum. "Topkapi" had thrills, derring-do, and featured well-directed roles for major talent like Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley and Maximilian Schell. "Cletis Tout" has some top talent as well, but while Ver Wiel's production is diverting enough, the plot is a mixed bag lacking the chills of a boldly-conceived robbery, a strong sense of comic timing, and a convincing love story.

A tale of mistaken identity that almost lands Finch (Christian Slater) in the morgue, "Who is Cletis Tout" opens in the present time. Hitman Critical Jim (Tim Allen), whose hobby when not killing people for money is watching classic films and memorizing the wittiest lines, holds Finch hostage, with instructions to the mobsters who hired him that his fee must be transferred to his bank account within 90 minutes of he lets his victim go. Since the money is no problem, Finch has the burden of talking Jim out of the hit. Latching on to Critical Jim's love for the cinema, he describes the plot of a intriguing potential movie based on his own experiences, which begin in 1977 when he meets the perpetrator of a botched diamond heist, Micah (Richard Dreyfuss), in a North Carolina maximum security prison. Micah has been sent up for forgery, a skill that serves the two jail birds after their escape, as they hook up with Micah's now-grown daughter, Tess (Portia De Rossi)--who takes an immediate dislike to Finch.

For Critical Jim to buy the proposed film and thereby let Finch escape from his clutches, he insists that Finch give the audience what they want: a jewel heist, a prison break and a girl all of which he gets. One trouble with the proposal as acted out by the characters described in the room is that there is little chemistry between Tess and Finch. Her distaste for the man she has just met and who has offended her is not convincing, nor is their mutual attraction thereafter. Yet another is that the comic genius of Billy Connolly in the role of a corrupt coroner, Dr. Savian, is underutilized. Richard Dreyfus seems uncomfortable with his alarmingly small role as the diamond thief whose days are numbered, and the two stooges who are hired as hitmen, Nimble (Louis Di Bianco) and Fife (Tony Nappo) might have been funny in the forties but are not amusing in a contemporary comedy. The biggest embarrassment of all is RuPaul as a drag queen who seems to have entered from another movie. Ver Wiel must have been thinking that an audience might still laugh at the stereotypical antics of such a character. "Who is Cletis Tout" is not destined to be the kind of movie that a lover of the classics like Critical Jim would consider viewing.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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