Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia de Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Connolly, Peter MacNeill, Bill Macdonald, Richard Chevolleau, Elias Zarou, RuPaul, Joseph Scoren, Eugene Lipinski, Shawn Doyle, Louis Di Bianco, Tony Nappo
Written by: Chris Ver Wiel
Directed by: Chris Ver Wiel
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and sexuality
Running Time: 92
Date: 09/12/2001

Who is Cletis Tout? (2002)

1 Star (out of 4)

'Who' Cares?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Who Is Cletis Tout? opens with a pair of thugs -- dim-witted Italian hitmen -- sitting at a diner drinking coffee, eating pie and discussing Deliverance (1972). They want to know why, if you're going to have sex with a man, would you pick Ned Beatty and not Burt Reynolds? Sound familiar? Maybe a little like a Quentin Tarantino film? Well, that's pretty much how Who Is Cletis Tout? plays from the first scene to the last. I thought we'd entered the thick of the Tarantino knockoffs and had come out the other side. A slew of filmmakers picked up on Tarantino's violence and pop-culture references without gleaning the poetry or his brilliant use of non-information. Delivering half-witted copies, greedy distributors obliged them, thinking they were cashing in on Tarantino fever. Remember Truth or Consequences, N.M. or 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag or Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead or Albino Alligator or 2 Days in the Valley or Suicide Kings or Palookaville or Mad Dog Time? At one point, these films were so numerous, I even blew off seeing Wes Anderson's brilliant debut Bottle Rocket because it seemed like another Tarantino knock-off.

But here we are again. And Who Is Cletis Tout? is so lazy, so pale an imitation, that it even has a hitman (played by Tim Allen) who quotes movie lines -- along with the date, title, and studio of the film in question -- at his prey before he shoots them. Believe me, it gets annoying fast. The plot has Christian Slater as a career criminal who escapes prison with a pal, a fiftysomething magician played by Richard Dreyfuss. The two assume new identities. Slater gets the moniker "Cletis Tout" -- which previously belonged to a recently deceased fellow who has a price on his head for videotaping a mobster murdering a hooker. Along with Dreyfuss' beautiful blond daughter (Portia de Rossi), our heroes plan to dig up a box of diamonds buried in a field three decades earlier. Unfortunately, the field is now inside a minimum-security prison. Slater tells the story in flashback while Allen points a gun at him. Allen, who plays Critical Jim, keeps explaining what the story needs to be a good movie. "It's near the end of the second act," he says, "You need some backstory on the girl." Critical Jim ruminates that movies aren't as good as they used to be. He's so right.

Written and directed by Chris Ver Wiel, the film's dialogue thuds, the pacing is slack, and the plot is full of holes. For example, Slater gets himself imprisoned so that he can dig up the diamonds and send them out to de Rossi via carrier pigeon, two diamonds at a time. How long would this take? Weeks? Months? Meanwhile, what's going on with the rest of the characters? Are they just sitting around waiting? The film earns a few points by casting the likable Slater, who actually acted in a very good Tarantino-scripted film, True Romance. But recalling Slater's exuberant performance as Clarence Worley in that film only makes Cletis Tout all the more dull. De Rossi also adds some luster to the film with her gorgeous hair and smile, but -- when did she get to be thinner than Calista Flockhart? In one scene, she's wearing all black, black pants and black sweater. She looks like a ball-point pen. Not only is this film completely useless, it's also about five years too late. It does have one laugh: Critical Jim tells Finch he sounds just like Jack Nicholson. Too bad the whole movie also sounds like someone else.

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