The Man (2005) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, crude humor, and violence (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss, Miguel Ferrer, Susie Essman, Horatio Sanz, Anthony Mackie, Gigi Rice
Director: Les Mayfield
Screenplay: Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman, Steve Carpenter
Review published September 13, 2005
The Man is a buddy comedy very much in the mold of Midnight Run except with Samuel L. Jackson (Revenge of the Sith, Coach Carter) playing the tough cop role previously held by Robert De Niro, while Eugene Levy (American Wedding, A Mighty Wind) is Charles Grodin, the nebbish neurotic that tries to change his life. The rest of the cast -- who cares? What we care to see is hothead Jackson and annoying Levy play off of each other, even if it means having to endure a thinly developed and asinine plot to do so. First big problem to this formula: Eugene Levy isn't Charles Grodin. Levy has enjoyed some success in recent years playing supporting roles as the stuffy, out of touch father in many films. As funny as he has been, these are one-joke characters that leave scenes just as quickly as they enter them, never outstaying their usefulness for us to see just how thinly defined they are. In The Man, Levy is in nearly every scene, but his character isn't any more fleshed out than he has been in films where he appears in one or two. In short, the movie runs out of juice very early, leaving Jackson to yell increasingly louder while the humor quickly descends into crass territory to try to squeeze out laughs where there are none to be found.
Jackson plays Detroit cop Derrick Vann, an rule-breaking undercover agent that has has the Internal Affairs department sniffing around ever since his partner ended up mysteriously killed off. Vann goes after the baddies responsible, but his attempts at infiltrating the band of criminals goes awry when an innocent bystander, the neurotic dental tool salesman named Andy Fidler, is mistaken as the contact. Too far invested to pull back now, Vann finds he must use Andy as a proxy to deal with some seriously ruthless people. Andy does the best he can, fearing Vann's wrath as much as he fears the other side, although he is in way over his head trying to act tough. Vann's patience is tested at every turn, and if the bad guys don't kill incessantly annoying Andy, he just might himself.
To be fair, The Man has a couple of moments of humor, although not nearly enough to make it close to being worth the time and money you'd spend to get to them. Like most buddy comedies, the producers of this formula flick never really look beyond the pairing of the two different personalities, investing so very little in anything other than contriving some situations that will allow the two actors to do their thing, hoping their chemistry will be enough to generate easy laughs. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't, and The Man doesn't. Whoever thought Jackson and Levy would make for a natural comedic pairing was dead wrong, as they feel much more like two men exploring their own game individually rather than two comedic actors playing off of each other.
Taking a look at director Les Mayfield's resume, he has made one buddy comedy before in 1999's awful Martin Lawrence/Luke Wilson film, Blue Streak. Obviously, he's the wrong guy for the job, and The Man definitely shows he should be barred from forced antics like this in the future. Mercifully, the running time is only 83 minutes, although about 78 of those minutes showcase plot points and gags you've seen done much better in other films (The rest? The end credits). Even if you've seen Midnight Run a dozen times, there will be more laughs to be had in the thirteenth viewing than in the first one of this witless wanna-be.
©2005 Vince Leo