Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch Director: Patrick Hughes Screenplay: Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner Cast: Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Kaley Cuoco, Jasmine Mathews, Lela Loren, Pierson Fodé, Jencarlos Canela, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Alejandro De Hoyos, Lela Loren, Rob Archer, Kate Drummond and Ellen Barkin Distributor: Netflix
Kevin Hart has made a few unlikely-buddy action comedies before, but the only one that caught fire was “Central Intelligence,” in which he was paired with Dwayne Johnson. Here’s another, with Woody Harrelson joining him, and it doesn’t; “The Man from Toronto” should probably be burned instead.
The script, by Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner, is a comic variation on the old “wrong man” premise, which Hitchcock repeatedly used to such great effect but here is strained past the breaking point. Hart is Teddy Jackson, an always hopeful loser would-be promoter whose latest idea, non-contact boxing, is dismissed as idiocy by his boss at a gym, who dismisses Jackson from his job as well. But Teddy immediately turns his attention to something more important: treating his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews) to a wonderful weekend at a rustic cabin.
Teddy manages to deposit her in an adjacent spa before driving to the cabin alone, but he gets the address wrong and winds up at a place where a couple of thugs are expecting the titular hit-man, a guy named Randy (Harrelson), to extract information from a captive, a task at which he’s famous. Jackson is mistaken for the Man from Toronto, and after being rescued by government agents is enlisted against his will to continue the pose in order to foil a dastardly international plot, which—incredibly—involves a plot by an exiled Venezuelan colonel (Alejandro De Hoyos) and his wife (Lela Loren) to blow up his country’s new embassy in Washington, along with the clean-cut new president who will be visiting the place for its dedication. Teddy’s spirited off to Washington, while Lori’s squired about by a handsome agent (Jencarlos Canela) during his absence.
That’s only the beginning. The conspirators require Teddy, whom they believe to be the man they hired, to proceed to Puerto Rico to extract a second needed code from another captive. The real Man from Toronto now intervenes during a frantic plane ride and insists that Teddy continue his imposture so the mission can be completed and he get his big payoff, even though the change of plan upsets his long-time handler Debora (Ellen Barkin) so much that she sends another of her employees, The Man from Miami (Pierson Fodé) to take them both out, and will eventually intervene personally.
Meanwhile Teddy and Randy get into a huge brouhaha at a tech convention—an opportunity for much slapstick action and supposedly comic violence, including the severing of a thumb needed for scanning recognition—the duo returns to Washington for the payoff. Lori has, by this time, linked up with her chatterbox friend Annie (Kaley Cuoco), who will pair off with Randy when the four meet.
The movie’s last act dissolves into a welter of action as the Venezuelan business is resolved, the designs of Debora and her myriad henchmen against the heroic duo are foiled, Teddy and Lori’s fractured relationship is fixed, and Randy’s underlying dreams for a different life are realized, as are Teddy’s hopes of success. It’s as if boxes on a studio list of “obligatory unlikely-buddy action-movie clichés” were being systemically checked off to the producers’ satisfaction. Variations to the formula are introduced, of course (along with a surprising amount of scatalogical humor and vomiting), but in the end the movie follows the fundamental template of the genre pretty slavishly. What else would you expect of the director who gave you “The Expendables 3,” “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and the “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”?
The cast do what you’d expect too. Hart rants and shouts a lot, doing the frantic shtick that grows more tiresome every time he does it in a movie or television commercial. Harrelson scowls and grumbles in much the same way as you’ve seen many times before. And though there’s a momentary charge from seeing Barkin stalking her prey with a big blaster at the ready, it quickly passes; her fate, moreover, is presumably intended to be funny, but comes across as unpleasantly grisly instead. The rest of the cast tend to exaggeration, apparently thinking it will increase the laugh quotient; it doesn’t.
“The Man from Toronto” was originally made for theatrical release, and technically it’s about average for a medium-budget studio effort. The production design (Naomi Shohan) and cinematography (Rob Hardy) are up to glossy professional standards, the editing (Craig Alpert) is efficient, and the score (Ramin Djawadi) is typically heavy-handed.
Add it all up and you’re left with a Kevin Hart vehicle that feels like a dupe of a dupe, hard to distinguish from its models but, like all duplicates, a bit less crisp with each copy.