We Found It on Netflix Instant: Tim Allen in Crazy on the Outside
Every so often, Max Silvestri plunges into the depths of his Netflix queue, resurfacing with reports of the strange things he’s found there. These movies are usually terrible, but he writes about them anyway.
What It’s About: A recently paroled ex-con (Tim Allen) moves back in with his family and has to adjust to how sometimes life is crazy on the outside of jail, not just on the inside of jail, which is where we’d all assumed was the only place that was crazy.
Who It’s For:Anyone who’s ever had a sitcom based on his autobiographical stand-up act and then lucratively sold its syndication rights.
Tim Allen called his book, released while I was in middle school, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man. As a kid I didn’t think too much about the title, but I laughed anyway. It seemed right in line with the rest of Allen’s oeuvre, an oeuvre I enthusiastically enjoyed. I assumed it was a vague reference to smells, noises, and tools, with a dash of suspicion about one’s wife. In hindsight, the title is on the menacing side. “If you find yourself standing very close to a naked man, back up a little. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand close; just don’t stand too close. But make sure you’re close enough to get a good, long look.” There’s a mild implication that a naked man isn’t responsible for what he does if one gets too close (in the cover photo Allen seems to be saying “back up or I’ll enter you”). That being said, it still has a better title than the progenitor of the ’90s light memoir/transcribed stand-up best-seller movement, Seinlanguage. Jerry Seinfeld called his book Seinlanguage and everyone, millions of people in fact, said, “OK.” You’d be hard-pressed to pick a worse name, but I tried anyway: Vulcan Seinmeld, Seinecology, Ich Bin Sein Jerrliner. Those are terrible names, but so is Seinlanguage.
I bought my mother Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man as a Christmas present in 1995, not because she had any particular fondness for Home Improvement, but because I wanted to read the book, and young boys only know how to buy presents they’d want for themselves. I loved the book. I may have read it more than twice. I had to fill out an application for the high school I went to, and I listed DSTCTANM (an acronym for Tim Allen’s book and also a very complicated novelty license plate if you enjoy “distinct anime”) as my favorite book. I also listed one of my main hobbies as “visiting thexfiles.net,” so I was in a very cool place in my life. My parents later turned my childhood bedroom into a guest bedroom, and they decorated it with a hotel-like minimalism. But the one personal detail that remained was the copy of Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man that they left out on the bedside table. It’s as if an invitation to stay at our house was also an invitation to stay up all night reading about Tim Allen’s arrest for dealing drugs and also how fun mowing lawns can be; be prepared to discuss it at the breakfast table.
All of the above is backstory to show you that I’m very much on Tim Allen’s side. (I own Galaxy Quest on DVD. I broke my braces on a Twizzler at an opening-night screening of The Santa Clause and subsequently was grounded for the first time. I could go on.) I have not kept up with his new sitcom or the movies where he struggles with being old, but 2010’s Crazy on the Outside seemed promising, in the loosest sense of the word “promising.” It’s his directorial debut, boldly billed as “A Tim Allen Film.” What could go wrong? The cast is full of reliable names (Sigourney Weaver, Ray Liotta, Julie Bowen, Jeanne Tripplehorn, J.K. Simmons, and Dame Kelsey Grammer) but the movie received only a limited release. It disappeared quickly, only to come out on DVD and disappear again immediately after.
The film opens in prison, as Tommy (Tim Allen) packs up his cell and prepares for his release. His wall is covered in photos of both Julie Bowen and an old truck. He looks longingly at a photo of Julie Bowen and delivers my favorite first line in a film in a long time: “I can’t believe you died.” Now that’s my kind of exposition. “I still love you, but the reason we’re not together is because you died and I am still dealing with how you are dead. You look alive in this picture, but that’s because it was taken when you were alive, not dead, like you are now.”
Tommy has spent three years in federal prison for his involvement in a movie piracy ring. Coincidentally, Tim Allen spent three years in prison in the late ’70s after being caught with nearly a pound and a half of cocaine. But while Tim snitched on his fellow dealers and received a lighter sentence, Tommy remained mum about his movie pirate boss, Ray Liotta. The movie makes a lot of Tommy’s loyalty. I can’t help but wonder if that was all strange for Tim Allen. “This movie is basically about my life except it’s intensely unlikable for my character in this broad comedy to be a coke-dealing informant, so how about instead I’m an honorable bootlegger? Action. Cut.”
As a condition of his parole, Tommy moves in with his sister Viki (Sigourney Weaver) and her husband, Ed (J.K. Simmons). Viki is a compulsive liar and an insane driver. After violently swerving out of the way of an oncoming truck, Tommy asks Viki where she learned to drive like that. “Carpool,” she says, and that joke infuriatingly makes no sense. It’s a total pencil-sketch outline of a seed of a joke, a first draft placeholder. Are carpools crazy? They’re just people commuting together, and often they have their own reserved lane. The movie is filled with punchlines like that, where you can imagine your uncle laughing at it if he were watching the movie while also reading a magazine at the same time.
Tommy visits a bridge in town where he and his dead girlfriend, Christy (Julie Bowen), carved their names in the wood. Strangely, “Tommy & Christy” is carved in cursive. Who carves things with a knife in cursive? That would take so long. Maybe Christy’s passion was wood engraving, but we’ll never know because, like Tommy, I can’t believe she died. In an odd two-second shot, Tim Allen almost gets run over by a CGI train he didn’t hear coming. This joke will turn out to be important later. (No it won’t.)
Tommy’s home life with his sister is made more complicated by another one of his sister’s lies: She told their mother that Tommy has been in France for the last three years working as an artist in residence at the Louvre, and that he is now engaged to a French astronaut named Simone. Viki chose this story because she didn’t think the mother’s heart could take Tommy being in prison, though presumably the mother’s heart is able to handle her son moving to France and never calling or writing. The mother has taught herself French and tries to talk to Tommy in French. This bit is endless and exhausting. Even Tommy’s guestroom is made up to look French, with Jerry Lewis movie posters and other lazy jokes. When Tommy promises Viki, “I’m out, so I’m not going to do anything stupid again,” a porcelain poodle in the room raises its eyebrows and looks at the camera. Putting aside how out of place cartoon comedy like that is in a live-action movie, Tim Allen’s line isn’t even that crazy. What I’m saying is I disagree with the porcelain poodle.
Tommy meets his parole officer, Angela (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and there’s an immediate spark, even though she promises to grind up his nuts. Tommy, presumably three years into an intense dry spell, stares longingly at her, and the film cuts to a shot of his perspective, but he is staring at her collar, which is conservatively buttoned help and reveals little of her neck. Is Tommy super into collarbones or something? This is not explained. Though Tommy dreams of starting his dad’s paint business back up, she gets him a job at Pirate Burger. There are lots of jokes, the entire rest of the movie, of how ridiculous Tim Allen looks in a pirate costume serving burgers, which are very similar to the jokes made in Fast Times at Ridgemont High 20 years ago. Tommy fantasizes about shoving his manager’s face in hot oil, which is upsetting.
On his way home from work, Tommy is kidnapped and thrown into the back of a black SUV. It turns out it’s just his old boss, Gray (Ray Liotta), playing a prank. Gray gives Tommy a tour of his newly upgraded movie piracy hideout. DVDs are burned, cocaine is offered, and the champagne flows like cocaine. Gray is very rich because he ships the movies to China, though in the next phase of his operation they’ll just “stream the masters to China over broadband,” and the take is $12 million. This movie has a poor understanding of the economics of piracy, I think. Gray wants Tommy back in the business. Ray jokes, “If you leave, I’m going to have to kill you,” which is a classic funny thing.
Viki surprises Tommy with their dad’s old truck from his paint business; Viki’s fixed it up and Tommy can use it to get his business going. Is a 60-year-old vintage pickup truck really the best thing for running a business? “It gets four miles to the gallon of diesel, doesn’t go above 20 mph, and you have to buy the replacement parts for it on eBay.” Sadly, Tommy still has to work at Pirate Burger. They have a special there called Mutiny on the Brownie, which is very funny, though it sounds like the name for the sex thing where you throw up on someone’s butt. (You know that sex thing, right?)
Out in the drive-through of Pirate Burger, Tommy glimpses Christy picking up an order. She’s alive! Viki reveals it was a lie to spare Tommy heartbreak. That is crazy that Viki did that, but also shame on Tommy for not checking. If I heard my girlfriend was exploded in a car wreck, I’d probably ask for a detail or two, maybe see where I could at least send flowers. Tommy was content to just hear about the news from his sister. “She died in a fiery car explosion? That blows. OK, bye.”
Tommy shows up at Christy’s house, and they have sex four times. Christy can’t resist him, because he looks like Tim Allen in a striped pirate costume. After their passionate night together, Tommy is ready to commit again, but Christy forgot to mention that she’s dating Kelsey Grammer. Her type is aging tanned comedic actors who made small fortunes off the syndication of their television shows. That is such a specific type, and if I were Frank (Grammer) I’d keep my eye out for Ray Romano. But my advice to everyone is to always keep his or her eyes out for Ray Romano. Christy is dating Frank because he’s a very successful Mitsubishi dealer. Christy tells Tommy she needs to go to her parents’ house, which is something an adult woman says.
Tommy is torn: He loves Christy, and sometimes they have sex four times in one night, but she is shallow and materialistic. Meanwhile, Angela is great and normal and friendly and wonderful, but he doesn’t realize yet he’s in love with her. He will, though. In the meantime, he heads to Christy’s parents house, where Christy is having an engagement party. It turns out she’s marrying Frank. One of Christy’s friends answers the door only to assume that Tommy, in his Pirate Burger costume, is a stripper someone ordered. Tim Allen, in a pirate costume, is definitely what the best strippers look like. Can you even imagine having a bachelorette party or something and the stripper who shows up is Tim Allen? “Who ordered this side of beef? How much do we have to pay to all get to fuck him? To fuck a guy who looks like this is priceless.” Christy tells Tommy she is marrying Frank for stability.
Angela doesn’t want Tommy starting his paint business, so to impress her, he gets a couple of ex-con Pirate Burger coworkers to help him break into her apartment while she’s away and repaint it, which is a classic, insanely illegal romantic comedy plan. If you are an ex-con trying to convince a parole officer you are responsible enough to own your own business, breaking into her home and defacing it and also simultaneously touching and moving every possession she owns is a great plan and not at all a traumatic invasion of privacy. There’s a montage as Tommy shows the two ex-cons how to paint. They keep almost stealing things but then they don’t. At one point one farts and Tommy laughs and covers his nose. When Angela discovers her painted house, she’s furious, though her son, who loves Tommy, loves his new blue room. Angela threatens Tommy: “If you do this again, I’ll have you arrested.” To be honest, it’s unlikely he’ll break into your apartment a second time to repaint it. It already looks great.
As Tommy slowly gets over Christy, things progress with Angela. She tells him, “You’re a really good painter.” Her heart slowly warming, Angela gets Tommy a job painting a judge’s house. He brings the ex-cons with him again. Angela checks in on them and invites Tommy to her son’s baseball game. She sure changed her mind about this criminal quickly. Tommy admits, “I’m not much of a team-sport guy. I tried drag racing.” I for real thought that line was going to be the start of a classic Tim Allen “NEEDS MORE POWER” riff, and I got excited, but it wasn’t. It was just a pointless aside. Angela warns Tommy about being careful with her son’s affection: “He’s never been burned romantically by someone like you.” I would hope not. I would hope a 50-year-old ex-con has never burned your son romantically.
The painting goes so well that the judge’s wife asks them to also paint the upstairs. Tommy, ecstatic, calls Angela. “Great news: Mrs. Pierce asked us to paint the upstairs.” Tim Allen sounds like a guy who has only the slightest sense of what painting would be like as a job. “If she asks us to apply a second coat, we will double our profits overnight. We’re gonna need a longer brush.”
At her son’s baseball game, Angela reveals to Tommy that her son’s father has never been around. He was a con man and took all her money. Is he Sawyer from Lost? “Gotta run, Freckles. What’s in the WOMB?” (That was a great hatch reference.) The con man father explains why Angela, a parole officer, is not eager to start a relationship with Tommy, an ex-con. Or maybe it has nothing to do with how her husband was a con man, and it’s more to do with how Tommy’s an ex-con, and she’s a parole officer.
Angela invites Tommy over for dinner, but their romantic evening goes awry when she gets a call from the judge: His wife’s diamond ring has been stolen. Tommy swears he had nothing to do with it, but Angela won’t hear it. She tells him to get the ring back. He calls the ex-cons, and they tell him they were surprising him: They stole the ring and left it for Christy. But Tommy doesn’t even like Christy anymore, so he races to her house and steals it back from her and Frank. He convinces Frank to stay with Christy because she loves that sweet Mitsubishi money. He gets the ring back to Angela, and she is (rightly) not interested in resuming their romantic dinner. Tommy can’t believe it. “This had nothing to do with me, you gotta know that.” Actually, it did. Even though you only knew them for two days, and all you knew about them was that they’d been in prison and were terrible at making burgers, you hired the ex-cons to spend all day rearranging jewels in a judge’s house. “You’re hired. Move these rings in a room all by yourself.” Tommy can’t believe Angela is still mad. He yells at her, “This isn’t right!” in a way that sounds like how Mark Wahlberg would have yelled that in Fear. “Ms. Tripplehorn, let me in the fucking house!”
Angela’s son is upset that Angela is still mad. “I thought when somebody said they were sorry you’re supposed to forgive them!” he snaps. Why would he think that? Your mom is a parole officer. Her job is literally to not believe people when they say they are sorry, then once she finally does decide to believe them, to limit the speed with which the system forgives them. What a crappy kid. Go cry in your blue room.
Tommy gets arrested again, because in order to get back the ring, he stole the Pirate Burger delivery car. This guy can’t catch a break. (He can actually catch many breaks, and instead just breaks the law and is selfish and unlikable.) Gray bails out Tommy, under the condition that Tommy works for him again. Tommy, now fired from Pirate Burger, agrees. He’s about to step on the private plane to San Francisco to do some business “with the Chinese,” but at the last moment Viki convinces him to stay. There is a dumb fight and I think Ray Liotta gets punched.
Tommy reconciles with Angela. Apparently, the judge was OK with things because he got his ring back in under five hours. “As a judge, I don’t mind that they stole it; I’m just happy they gave it back.” Tommy says to Angela, “I know you’re scared, Angela. But I’m not the guy that went into prison. I’m the man that came out.” Like in Beyond Thunderdome. “Two guys enter, one man leaves, and another man leaves too. GUYZ II MEN.”
About 10 minutes later, Tommy introduces Angela and her son to his family at a BBQ. I think they are moving too fast. Tommy’s mother still thinks Angela was her son’s grief counselor after Simone the astronaut died in a failed French rocket launch. Angela says, “Oh, I’m Tommy’s probation officer.” Everyone looks at Viki, the liar. She mugs, “Tommy was in jail?!” Then a blooper reel shows over the credits, and there are bloopers and funny on-set pranks like the time Tim Allen directed this movie.
When You Should Watch This Movie: When you have the kind of hangover where the only cure is spending 100 minutes watching Tim Allen look so uncomfortable in his clothes. He really walks in an unpleasant way. It’s like he’s wearing a girdle, and also he has a huge tail or something, and they had to fit it into his regular boot-cut jeans and so now it’s very unpleasant for him to move around because his tail is so sensitive.