Film Review – The Man from Toronto
The Man from Toronto
The case of mistaken identity is about as old as storytelling itself. When done well, it can provide for excitement and thrills – Alfred Hitchcock was a master at this kind of structure. When done poorly, you end up getting The Man from Toronto (2022). This is a dreadfully unfunny action comedy that is so unconvincing that it drops its central premise midway through and becomes a buddy team up. Even then, it’s a letdown. It contains half-baked ideas and gags that lack any kind of punch. I wish I could tell you that this is tailor made as an airplane movie or is meant to be seen while folding the laundry. Thinking about it, that description would cut those films way too short.
The setup is not the problem. We’ve seen everyday people getting swept into an adventure involving spies, hitmen, and shootouts plenty of times before. The pinnacle of this would be the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jamie Lee Curtis classic, True Lies (1994). The Man from Toronto does not come close to that. A lot of the issues has to do with casting. As talented as Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson are as individual performers, they do not have much chemistry when paired together. Hart yammers incessantly as the underachieving sales rep, while Harrelson is handcuffed to be the stoic assassin. The two are never given much leeway to play or experiment with their roles, and so they appear to be simply going through the motions.
Hart plays Teddy, a well-meaning but floundering salesman whose various exercise ventures have all gone downhill. He’s such a screw up, in fact, that his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews) reveals that whenever something goes bad at her law firm, her colleagues nicknamed it, “Teddying It.” In a bit of – let’s saying “interesting” writing – Lori laughs along with her cohorts instead of sticking up for her husband. Things go really south when, while trying to have a lovely vacation getaway, Teddy accidentally walks into the wrong cabin and right into a deadly interrogation. The bad guys mistaken Teddy as the hitman known as “The Man from Toronto.” Instead of worming his way out, Teddy decides to play along. This puts Teddy in the eyes of many, including the FBI as well as the actual Man from Toronto, played by Harrelson.
Obviously, the story is meant to be a farce, but the writing (Robbie Fox, Chris Bremner) and direction (Patrick Hughes) does not help us forget how ridiculous this all is. Teddy is way in over his head, and – understandably so – doesn’t want to take part in any espionage, assassinations, or shady spy games. And yet, both the FBI and The Man from Toronto force him to go undercover. Several scenes feature Teddy impersonating the infamous mercenary, usually in the presence of dangerous people. Are we meant to believe that someone who sells non-contact boxing classes can convince criminals that he is a killing machine who can extract information from anyone he interrogates? Wherever the line of believability is, the film didn’t just cross it – it hopped, skipped, and jumped far away from it.
Even with all that said, the biggest problem is that this is simply not funny. Hart is one of the most successful comedians of his generation, who can throw out two or three punchlines in a single breath. Sadly, the writing and direction are not crisp enough to translate his abilities on screen. Teddy says a lot of lines but few hit with comedy force outside of a slight chuckle. The same can also be said about Harrelson. Harrelson is one of the few actors who can handle dramatic and comedic material with equal skill, but his character is such a wet blanket that many scenes simply require Harrelson to be quiet, reserved, or menacing. Whatever backstory we learn of him goes to waste, because he is constructed as nothing more than a type rather than interesting, nuanced person.
Stepping back, we notice opportunities for the narrative to expand in fascinating ways. We learn of an underground system of assassins from all over the world, with nicknames such as “The Man from Miami,” “The Man from Russia,” “The Man from Tokyo,” and so on. We also meet their handler, a grenade launching Ellen Barkin. All of this sounds fun on paper, hinting at an entire network bigger than our central story. Unfortunately, whenever things start to gain momentum, we get pulled back into the odd couple relationship between Teddy and Toronto. They get tossed into a screwball mission stuffed with hyperactive, nauseating action. The set pieces are overly chopped and stitched together, creating energy but with little coherency. One scene has Toronto and The Man from Miami hopping down several floors of a building while Teddy dangles from a high precipice. The scene should be pulse pounding, but the visuals are so chaotically managed that we have no sense of geography. We don’t know how high Teddy is from the ground, what floors the two hitmen are traversing, or how close any of them are to one another. It’s all speed with no regard to choreography.
For a movie that borrows heavily from others like it, The Man from Toronto is a blank slate. It features performers all working below their capabilities but is not entertaining enough to make up the deficit. The more I think about the film, the less I like it, so it may be a good time to end the review here.