Looking and sounding like a second-tier '80s made-for-cabler, "Crazy on the Outside" is the sort of bland trifle one might watch to kill time during an extended flight. Top-billed Tim Allen, who does double duty as director and star, may have intended the project to demonstrate he's capable of something slightly subtler than broad comedy. But even with familiar faces in supporting roles to enhance the marquee value, his labor-of-love indie dramedy likely will fade into obscurity after completing its pro forma theatrical run.
Written by TV sitcom vets Judd Pillot and John Peaslee -- not straying very far from their roots -- "Crazy" follows the game efforts of ex-con Tommy Zelda (Allen) as he struggles to rebuild his life after completing a three-year stretch in federal prison for video piracy. (A brief view of his hardcore, fearsomely tattooed fellow inmates may -- repeat, may -- dissuade anyone from ever making an illegal DVD dupe of this or any other pic.)
While living with his supportive sister (Sigourney Weaver, reunited with Allen a decade after "Galaxy Quest") and skeptical brother-in-law (J.K. Simmons), Tommy tries to resist temptations proffered by his former partner in crime (Ray Liotta) and seeks to restart his late father's house-painting business. The bad news is, he's forced by his parole officer, Angela (Jeanne Tripplehorn) to accept a demeaning job at a fast-food restaurant. The good news is -- well, his parole officer looks like Jeanne Tripplehorn. And she just happens to have a young son (Kenton Duty) in desperate need of a father figure.
To her considerable credit, Tripplehorn hits all the right notes of emotional truth in her underwritten role, especially when, early on, Angela is uneasy about allowing her son to bond with someone in her caseload of ex-cons. ("He's looking for something," she says in the pic's most affecting moment, "and I don't want him to find that in you.") At the other end of the spectrum, Julie Bowen takes (or, perhaps more accurately, is encouraged to take) a far more cartoonish approach to playing Tommy's ex-girlfriend, Christy, who -- despite her engagement to a successful electronics-store mogul (Kelsey Grammer) -- is eager to rekindle sexcapades with her former flame.
At one point, the pic grinds to a halt while wringing cheap laughs from a sequence during which the newly reunited Christy and Tommy repeatedly copulate for hours. It could be true, as Mel Brooks once stated, that it's good to be king -- but Allen indicates that it's even better to be the director.
Looking a trifle more haggard than is absolutely necessary for an ex-con to credibly appear, Allen does a respectable job of underplaying as Tommy. But like many other actors who have branched out into helming, he allows a few of his fellow players -- most notably, Jon Gries and Malcolm Goodwin as Tommy's fast-food restaurant co-workers -- freer rein than he probably should. But he also evidences a sharp eye for the occasional clever sight gag: During Tommy's prison stint, his clueless grandmother (Helen Slayton-Hughes) believed he was in France. And so, upon his return, he finds she has redecorated his bedroom accordingly -- complete with a poster of a Jerry Lewis movie ("The Bellboy") on the wall.
Golden oldies on the soundtrack, ranging from Herman's Hermits to Ramsey Lewis, suggest Allen wanted to reach out to fellow baby boomers. Other tech credits are passable.