Behind a rather perplexing title, Who Is Cletis Tout? hides a charming movie about hitmen, thieves, mafia, murder, and ultimately love. Featuring all these intriguing and familiar themes, you might be wondering why you haven’t heard about this movie earlier. Well, there’s no simple answer for that. It seems that Who Is Cletis Tout? is one of those movies that fell through the cracks. And I haven’t even mentioned a pretty famous cast. We’ve got Christian Slater, Richard Dreyfuss, Portia de Rossi, and Tim Allen who plays a ruthless hitman known as Critical Jim.
The entire movie feels like it’s based on a novel although it’s not. The story is told mostly in flashbacks after one hell of an opening. We find our titular character Cletis Tout in a hotel room with a gun to his head. Critical Jim has come to collect another paycheck but before it clears he has time for a story. And boy, does Cletis Tout has one. Even though director and writer Chris Ver Wiel, introduces such a powerful setup early on, the atmosphere remains rather casual throughout. This is one of those movies that just flow off the screen and it requires very little effort from the viewer.
The whole thing feels like one big criminal fairy tale if that makes any sense. This makes some of the twists and scenes a bit contrived and childish but once you start watching this movie, you kind of just go with the flow. You will also feel the tremendous potential in the story and the characters, a potential that wasn’t sadly utilized to the full. It adds nothing to the genre but it’s a nice distraction, especially if you’ve already seen all the heavy hitters.
Critical Jim just finished watching one of his favorite old movies. He’s a hitman who loves two things, killing people and watching old movies. Cletis Tout is his latest mark and he easily finds him holed up in a hotel room. Jim quickly ties him up and tells the contractor to wire him the money. Since that process lasts about ninety minutes, Jim’s got time for a story. But Cletis doesn’t have to make one up as his life up until that point has been crazy enough…
The story and the atmosphere of this movie reminded me of Big Trouble, also starring Tim Allen. Although I guess since Christian Slater plays the lead role, comparisons to True Romance are much more appropriate. I also want to mention Usual Suspects, as an example of a similar type of storytelling. But done much better. Who Is Cletis Tout? also talks a lot about movies as Critical Jim is a big fan of old movies. He even discusses the structure of a good mystery/thriller/comedy as we’re watching a mediocre one unfold.
However, it’s hard to not like this movie despite all of its flaws. There’s a certain wholesomeness to it that makes it easy to watch and digest. Additionally, it also features some rather original concepts and scenes in between all the familiar stuff. So, if you’re looking for that relaxing, lazy Sunday afternoon movie, Who Is Cletis Tout? is a perfect choice.
Director: Chris Ver Wiel
Writer: Chris Ver Wiel
Cast: Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia de Rossi, Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Connolly, RuPaul
Fun Facts: The movies was ready for a 2001 release but because of September 11 attack, the premiere was postponed for a year.