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'Who Is Cletis Tout?'

'Cletis Tout' is a stylistic mess

Friday, August 09, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Swallowing Tim Allen as Santa Claus is easier than buying him as a hitman with a love for old movies in the film "Who Is Cletis Tout?" A better question might be: Why did you saddle a crime comedy with such a clunky title?

'Who Is Cletis Tout?

RATING: R for language, some violence and sexuality

STARRING: Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Richard Dreyfuss

DIRECTOR: Chris Ver Wiel

WEB SITE: www.paramount


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Allen is Critical Jim, a hitman who has nabbed Trevor Finch (Christian Slater), mistakenly thinking he's Tout. To try to save his life and keep Jim distracted, Finch relates a tale about a jewel heist, prison break and a girl. "Pitch me," Jim challenges, as if he were a Weinstein brother listening to a movie proposal.

Finch spins the story of a diamond caper that lands a magician named Micah (Richard Dreyfuss) in the same prison where he was sent for fraud and forgery. The illusionist and Finch end up on the lam, with Micah trying to reconnect with the daughter and diamonds he left behind years ago.

The structure of "Cletis Tout," actually the name of a sleazy video journalist, is its own worst enemy. Just when you've sunk into the flashback about the theft or prison break, the action abruptly switches back to the present. The result is jarring, made more so because Allen is miscast in a role that begs for a Dennis Farina type. Smaller roles are filled by the bigger-than-life Billy Connolly, former "Ally McBeal" regular Portia de Rossi and irrepressible RuPaul.

The mood is all over the map, as thugs discuss the movie "Deliverance" in a Quentin Tarantino homage/rip-off and we visit a morgue where a man's charred body has been brought. Later in the movie, the cops make some decisions that would never happen in real life.

Writer-director Chris Ver Wiel toys with the time element, but not as successfully as others. Like the precious stones buried by the magician, there's a gem here waiting to be unearthed.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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