(R) 3 stars Who Is Cletis Tout? is one of those films that does a few things so right that it makes up for most of the things it does wrong. In this case, the wrong things include the uninviting title, a script that tries too hard and way too many references to other movies. On the plus side, writer/director Chris Ver Wiel offers a number of winning lines and, most importantly, draws some very nice, understated performances from several members of his cast.
After an opening scene, reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, that makes a good point about the film Deliverance, the flashback-heavy story begins. Trevor Finch (Christian Slater), a bunko artist/forger, and magician/jewel thief Micah (Richard Dreyfuss), break out of prison and scheme to recover diamonds that Micah stole and hid over 20 years ago. The men secure new identities for themselves, courtesy of Dr. Savian (Billy Connolly), a high-spirited coroner. Unfortunately for Finch, the identity he selects is that of Cletis Tout, a journalist who made the fatal mistake of trying to blackmail a crime gang. Finch starts using his new name around town and word spreads to the mob that Cletis Tout is alive and kicking. They assume their dim-bulb hit men executed the wrong guy and decide to use brighter talent to correct the error. The story then proceeds to twist and turn all over the place, incorporating a nosy neighbor (RuPaul), Micah"s daughter, Tess (Portia de Rossi), and a movie-obsessed hit man, Critical Jim (Tim Allen), along the way. My advice is that you focus less on the convoluted plot and more on the dialogue and cast. Much of the dialogue is straight from the Quentin Tarantino Wannabe School of writing, but a lot of it works nonetheless. I particularly appreciated the moment when Tim Allen"s character turns to Christian Slater"s character and says, "Did anybody ever tell you that you sound a lot like Jack Nicholson?" Slater and Richard Dreyfuss, two men known to gnaw scenery on a fairly regular basis, give nice, low-key performances. Billy Connolly, another frequent ham, also tones it down drastically, while still managing to steal scenes in his brief time onscreen. But the real surprise here is Tim Allen. Ignore the annoying movie trivia he has to spout and watch when he gets mad, especially when he confronts a group of vandals. The realism and sheer power Allen exhibits in those moments show a side of the man I have never seen before. Hopefully, Allen will pursue some heavier roles and explore this aspect of himself. And hopefully, those who watch Who Is Cletis Tout? will look past the hubris and savor the good stuff.