Who is Cletis Tout? (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film received harsh reviews, and disappeared quickly. It's a shame. While not a masterpiece, Cletis Tout is an unfairly overlooked little gem, which many of you may find appealing.

Richard Dreyfuss is seen in prison. He was once a professional illusionist who turned into a criminal mastermind. Imagine David Copperfield using his detailed illusions for criminal gain. For example, Dreyfuss robs a bank in broad daylight, but has an air-tight alibi. He was seen performing in the courtyard outside the bank during the robbery, in full view of hundreds of people. It's a pretty cool premise, and the same ingenuity engineers a comical, daring prison break.

Christian Slater plays an imprisoned forger who helps Dreyfuss break out of the big house. In his own former criminal career, Slater was also a genius in his field. He had managed to devise a perfect false documents scam. His partner was a coroner. The coroner would frequently determine an identification for an anonymous body but would officially claim it was unidentifiable, passing the true ID along only to Slater, who then used that identity to create a perfect set of false documents for someone else, confident that the real owner would never come along to blow anyone's cover. Sweet!

After their prison break, Slater and Dreyfuss contact the coroner, who sets them up with the identities of recent corpses, but there is a major snag. Slater takes on the ID of a guy who was hit by the mob. When the underworld guys accidentally get wind of Slater's presence, they think their successful hit was not so successful after all, and they bring in their #1 hit man, Critical Jim (Tim Allen), to finish the task.

Critical Jim soon has Slater tied up in a hotel room, and is waiting for the mob to pay him before he finishes the kill. Luckily for Christian Slater, the mob guys are a little slow in making the transfer to Critical Jim's bank account, so the two men use the time to swap stories.

Slater points out that he's not who Jim thinks, and tells his whole story from the prison break up until that point.

That story also involves millions of dollars worth of diamonds which had been hidden by Dreyfuss before he was arrested, and a budding romance between Slater and Dreyfuss's daughter (Portia de Rossi). As you can guess from the presence of lost diamonds, two lovers, a bunch of mob guys, an army of cops, and four criminal masterminds (the two cons, the coroner, and Critical Jim), the scheming can get very elaborate.


there is a naked female corpse in the morgue

That all sounds contrived, doesn't it? On paper, it sounds too complicated, and it seems to cross over into too many unrelated genres. It's a caper picture, it's a farce, it's a romantic comedy, and it's a flamboyant Tarantinoesque crime story. It also uses a circular narrative, ala Tarantino, to present the already complicated story, using flashbacks within flashbacks, making it all so convoluted you need a program to score the game.

To make matters worse, the romantic pairing between Christian Slater and Portia de Rossi doesn't work at all.

Despite all that, I found the movie very engaging. It has a big heart, Billy Connelly is hilarious as the coroner, and Tim Allen is a hoot as Critical Jim, the hit man who is also a film geek. The script uses Critical Jim's love of films to comment on the story which Slater tells him. Since the story which Slater relates to Critical Jim is also the plot of this film, Critical Jim is also being critical of the very film in which he is also a character. By the end of the film, Jim loves Slater's story, believes it, and most important, thinks it could make a good movie. Therefore, he can't kill Slater, because ... well, because Slater is the good guy.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1.

  • good transfer, but no features

In a sense, Cletis Tout is to caper films as Scream is to horror movies. It uses Critical Jim's voice to tell you what a genre fan should have expected at any given time, and why it did or didn't happen in this particular movie.

Despite some flaws, I found it consistently charming, warm, and sometimes very funny.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: two stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Entertainment Weekly D.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it a fairly respectable 6.4/10, Yahoo voters appraise it at 3.6/5, and Metacritic users averaged 7.7/10
  • A bomb! It never reached as many as fifty theaters, and grossed only $250,000 altogether.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. One of the better comedies of the year, although you never heard of it, and the critics hated it

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