A film review by Craig J. Koban May 31, 2010



2010, PG-13, 96 mins.


Tommy Zelda: Tim Allen / Vicky: Sigourney Weaver / Gray: Ray Liotta / Angela Papadopolous: Jeanne Tripplehorn / Ed: J.K. Simmons / Christy:  Julie Bowen / Frank: Kelsey Grammer / Edgar: Jon Gries / Grandma: Helen Slayton-Hughes / Rick: Malcolm Goodwin / Ethan Papadopolous:  Kenton Duty


Directed by Tim Allen / Screenplay by Judd Pillot, John Peaslee

The only possible thing that would have made CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE any more tolerable would have been if its end credits came about five or ten minutes into the film.  

There are some comedies that are desperate for laughs, but this is a highly rare breed that rarely even puts forth a modest effort at all.  What’s truly shocking about this epically dreadful and laughless disaster is that it was directed by a comedian (Tim Allen) and you would assume that a professional jokester with his wits intact would be able to take mediocre material and fly with it.  However, even with a comedic actor at the helm, CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE is shockingly unfunny, monumentally trite, and generically charm-free: it makes second tier TV sitcoms look innovative by comparison. 

It’s one thing for a comedy to be laughably wretched, but this one is depressively so.  It also begs me to ask one simple question: how could Allen assemble such a slew of good, dependable dramatic actors (like Sigourney Weaver, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Ray Liotta) and comedic ones (J.K. Simmons and Kelsey Grammar) and convince them that there was some modest artistic value in making CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE?  I mean, what possible motivation would there have been for all of them?  It could not have been a mighty large paycheck (this is an indie-financed comedy, so money was not aplenty), nor could it have been the script, which is comprised of, more or less, a series of contrived and lame skits.  My only conclusion – and only compliment towards the film – is that Allen is a celebrity with a serious amount of Svengali-like pull and clout:  I not sure what is more damning – the notion that he could convince all aboard to join this dreadful film or that the actors lacked sound judgment to say "no" to him. 

This comedy (ha!) concerns a fresh-on-parole Tommy (Allen) that has just been released after a three-year stint in the slammer.  He is convinced upon leaving that he is a changed man that wants to go “clean”.  He is picked up outside of the prison by his loyal sister, Vicky (Sigourney Weaver, Allen’s GALAXY QUEST co-star, looking clueless and befuddled throughout the film) and she takes him home to stay with her family, much to the chagrin of her kids and husband, Ed (J.K. Simmons, who has rarely been this unfunny).  This sets up a would-be hilarious moment when she reacquaints Tommy to dear old Granny (Helen Slayton Hughes), a woman so senile that she was convinced by Vicky that Tommy was in France for the past three years.  I am not exactly sure how Hughes was appropriately cast as Tommy and Vicky’s grandma, seeing as she barely looks old enough to be their mother.  Go figure.  Nonetheless, this is the start of the film’s endlessly stupid and recurring gags involving her attempts to become a more francophone relative.  Never once is this funny. 

Tommy does dutifully meet up with his parole officer, a single mom named, get ready for this, Angela Papadopolous.  Why Papadopolous?  I guess long names are meant to be funny.  Anyways, Angela (a lovely and fine Jeanne Tripplehorn, doing what she can with an underwritten role) is the proverbial by-the-book parole officer that – wouldn’t you know it? – develops a soft spot for Tommy (let’s just say the blossoming relationship between the pair never once feels logical nor believable).  She's also a terrible mother, seeing as she allows her young son to visit her at work, which is populated by oodles of ex-cons (she constantly states in the film that she does not want to expose her son to harmful stimuli…huh?).  Tommy tries to convince her that he wishes to re-start his father’s paint business, but Angela needs proof beforehand, so she sends him to work at a MacDonald’s fast-food clone called Pirate Burger, which pathetically is used to hatch out every lame pirate joke in the book.  On top of that, almost all of the workers here appear to be ex-cons.  Sure.  Right. 

Things get complicated for Tommy, especially when his old friend, Gray (Ray Liotta, a good actor with an instinct for both merriment and sternness, but woefully marginalized here) wants to lure him back into the lucrative business of pirating DVDs for overseas buyers (Tommy took the apparent fall for Gray years ago, which left him on the streets and feeling like he needs to return the favor).  Again...I feel like a broken record...but I am not sure exactly sure how a DVD pirating business could be as lucrative and profitable as it appears to be here, especially in the age of Internet downloads (Gray appears to be a multi-millionaire).  Nonetheless, Tommy gets interested when his job at Pirate Burger and his side-gig painting houses starts to fall through (also completely implausible is how rich judges would allow a bunch of ex-cons to come into his home to re-paint it).  Things get really dicey when Tommy is reacquainted with his ex-girlfriend, Christy (Julie Bowen, the only actor at least trying to generate guffaws), but that is impeded because she is about to be married to a successful big screen TV salesmen, Frank (Kelsey Grammar, whose comic instincts are never once utilized here).   

The film was written by TV sitcom vets Judd Pillot and John Peaslee, and rarely have there been more horribly concocted and telegraphed sight gags and jokes in a film.  There are almost too many scenes to mention, but I will try.  Just look at one instance where a porcelain statue of a poodle comes to life to give an incredulous reaction shot during one would-be uproarious moment.  If that did not placate my "WTF!?" meter enough, then there is a moment where the camera goes right through Tommy’s chest cavity to reveal his heart with a gauge that has detailed descriptions of his current emotional state.  Oookkaaay.  Less preposterous and inane, but equally moronic and lifeless, is a confrontational scene between Tommy and Vicky at a dentist’s office in a room with a patient that is getting novocained up.  The conversation continues and the patient blacks out even further.  Ho-ho. 

Even as head-smackingly dreadful is a mid-way point sex scene between Tommy and Christy, during which they repeatedly copulate for hours and hours and the camera juxtaposes images of them with those of satanic bobbleheads gyrating up and down alongside images of screws being drilled into wood blanks on a nearby TV.  Does Allen, the director, actually think cheap pallor tricks like are hilarious?  This reveals the former sitcom star as a director of hopeless detachment:  Allen’s framing of scenes is also lackluster and bland (a sequences where he joyrides in a sports car through the city is a editorial disaster, as is a terribly phony looking moment where he’s trying to outrun a freight train).  Furthermore, Allen never once uses his stand-up prudence and intuition to create comic payoffs and reactions.  Could he not have given gifted screen comedians like Simmons and Grammar better material to work with?  Here Simmons is delegated to making sexual snide remarks about his wife’s cleavage and butt and Grammar’s only moment involving a potential laugh is him being kneed in the groin and then icing the area with frozen peas.  Hardy-har. 

I would rather be some vile convict’s bitch in prison for 90 minutes than sit through CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE again.  What’s mournful here is that Allen is actually somewhat decent in his role: he respectfully underplays Tommy amidst all of the dimwitted comedic moments (Allen is a good actor when given good material: remember his small supporting role in David Mamet’s REDBELT?).  Perhaps more confounding about this whole mess is Allen’s real life history behind bars.  In the 70’s the star turned state’s evidence to lessen the severity of a coke-possession sentence, and one would think that this would have given Allen some insight into making CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE a sort of darkly funny, pseudo-biographical look at his own experiences.  No dice here, folks, because the film feels more at home with being in the mould of a lowest common denominator screen comedy.  

And I do need to emphasize the term “lowest”.

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