Who Is Cletis Tout?


Directed by: Chris Ver Wiel
Written by:Chris Ver Wiel
Starring: Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia de Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Connolly
Released: May 8, 2003
Grade: B+

Thanks to my capacity as a film critic, I saw this film.  I found it very enjoyable and would recommend it to most people.  But it’ll make very little difference because the film will likely be pulled from cinemas after this, its opening week.  With the extraordinary effort required to make a motion picture, the creators here have left themselves down with the disappointing and forgettable title, Who Is Cletis Tout?  Also not helping matters is the zero advertising the film has received in Australia.  So when you aren’t telling people about a forgettable film, how the hell can you expect it to succeed?

If you do happen to see this flick (most likely on video), you’ll see it has cinematic wit.  We begin in a hotel room with hitman Critical Jim (Allen) preparing to shoot Trevor Finch (Slater) who he believes is Cletis Tout.  Jim just has to wait 90 minutes for the hit fee to be deposited into his bank account and Trevor will be history.  Trevor knows his time is short unless he can convince Jim that he is not Tout and knowing Jim’s love for classical movies, he explains his story as if it were a Hollywood screenplay.

It begins with a flashback.  Magician Micah Donnelly (Dreyfuss) robs a bank and hides millions of dollars in diamonds beside a tree in an empty field.  Having spent over 20 years in jail for the heist, Micah has devised a plan to escape, reclaim the loot and live happily ever after with his daughter Tess (de Rossi).  Trevor Finch has been a good friend to Micah in jail and he offers him the chance to escape with him.

All goes to plan and looking for a place to hide out, Trevor calls on friend Dr. Savian (Connolly) who works at the morgue.  Savian also can provide Micah and Trevor will new identities but it is here where plans go askew.  Fresh in the morgue is a photo journalist by the name of Cletis Tout and Savian gives Trevor his paperwork so he can assume his identity.  The problem being that Tout was in possession of a revealing video and killed as a result of it.  With word on the street that Tout is still alive, Trevor now finds himself a wanted man.

It’s a genuinely interesting film and was created from the mind of newcomer Chris Ver Wiel.  In was actually shot three years ago but took two years to find a distributor in the States and until now to find a distributor in Australia.  Tim Allen’s character is a lover of classical cinema and audience members with a similar love will get a kick out of the famous movie quotes he recites along the way.  Also of note is the unusual method Wiel adopts to tell the story – by having Trevor “pitch” the story to Jim as if it were a movie (with the irony being that we are actually watching it as a movie).  It was Allen’s character I enjoyed most but I was impressed by the whole ensemble.

The novelty of the film wears a little thin in the later scenes but there are a few cute twists and turns to keep focus.  Overall, it’s a strong release.  But the question is not who is Cletis Tout but rather who is going to see Who Is Cletis Tout?