Just when you thought you’d seen all of the action-packed, hijinx-heavy love-hate buddy-comedies that the world could possibly generate, along comes The Man from Toronto. Directed by Patrick Hughes, who is coming in hot off of the Hitman’s Bodyguard franchise (and you will absolutely be able to tell), the film follows Teddy (Kevin Hart), a charming yet totally inept wannabe entrepreneur who just can’t seem to catch a break.
Teddy’s series of misfortunes leads to an AirBnb mixup, which then leads to a couple dangerous men mistaking him for a brooding and notoriously nefarious assassin named Randy, or The Man from Toronto (Woody Harrelson). But instead of simply resolving the improbable mistake (what fun would that be?), The Man from Toronto takes us on a near two hour wild ride replete with dramatic irony and an imperative to suspend every ounce of disbelief you might be holding on to.
But when it comes down to it, a ridiculous conceit isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world. Indeed, where The Man from Toronto falls short isn’t in its implausible premise, but rather its lackluster execution. There is an overwhelming sense of apathy present in the film, which manifests perhaps most plainly in its performances.
Specifically, the two leads are largely underwritten. Hughes leans heavily on Hart’s usual high-pitched, frantic comedy style, (I’d be surprised if a lot of his role wasn’t improvised). And while this obviously yields some pretty foolproof comedy (the film does find a handful of laughs), it doesn’t give the impression that screenwriters Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner were at all concerned with crafting a new character, or even adding new flavor to Hart’s existing persona. Teddy’s whole personality, for example, revolves around his preposterous entrepreneurial ideas. But while this aspect of his character is emphasized in the first act, it barely makes a comeback after the fact. This in turn makes Teddy’s arc difficult to follow.
A similar problem arises with Randy, who is more-or-less a revised version of Harrelson’s crotchety characters in films like Zombieland and The Edge of Seventeen. And while Randy does have a touch more nuance to him than Teddy, (despite being a sought-after assassin, he gets really nervous around women), Harrelson honestly seems, well… bored.
It isn’t just the characters that feel undercooked, though. Particularly in the third act, The Man from Toronto dishes out plot point after plot point in a way that is not only exhausting, but a little confusing. When Teddy and Randy meet, the latter informs his bumbling accidental copycat that he has to bring him on a quest to retrieve a powerful figure. And while the details of this heist aren’t terribly important, they’re explained so haphazardly that it’s difficult to follow or care.
By act three, so much information is being thrown at the viewer that it’s impossible to know what to cling to. There’s the man from Miami, the man from Chicago, a double-crossing boss, countless villains, a car named Deborah, and much more. At a certain point, it just feels like The Man from Toronto is a bunch of peoples’ ideas rolled into one film. They say that too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth, and that’s never felt more true.
It doesn’t help, either, that the film isn’t shot in any unique or dynamic way. Most frames are tinged with a cool, flat color palette, and action scenes are framed by frantic, breakneck-speed editing that makes a film that already induces whiplash with its content impossible to keep track of visually.
The only part that actually works about The Man from Toronto is its humor. Indeed, the meager Teddy feigning the posture of a hardened assassin provides sufficient laughs. In one scene, he accidentally slices someone’s eye open while gesticulating with a knife, and then proceeds to vomit all over a couple of macho men. And while puke-humor often falls flat, it works here, as Hart masterfully finds the balance of emphasizing the physical humor of it all, alongside his characters’ bashfulness over the gross thing he’s just done.
There are multiple moments, too, when Teddy and Randy’s relationship is funny, and actually achieves Hughes’ attempted buddy-comedy dynamic. This comes across when Teddy expresses his gratitude to Randy for not beating the crap out of him, for example, or in Randy’s straight-faced frustration with his new business partners’ longwindedness.
Indeed, it is not Hart nor Harrelson’s fault that they were dealt a lazy script with underwritten characters. For the most part, they try their best – even if sometimes their frustrations inevitably seep through. The two more than capable actors were simply caught in another sad case of a rushed action flick that severely lacks in much-needed depth.