The Man from Toronto, a macho action romp starring Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson, is yet another illustrative example of the Covid shockwave still rippling through the movie industry. It was originally slated for a theatrical release by Sony in November 2020, then faced pandemic production delays, then was acquired by Netflix and pushed to this weekend.
The unceremonious streaming dump makes sense. Netflix has, arguably to its own detriment, cornered the market on big-budget throwaway films, and The Man from Toronto, from Australian director Patrick Hughes, is brawn and bustling action with no bruise, no staying power. It’s the film version of contactless boxing, protagonist Teddy Jackson’s much-maligned and pitiable business plan that gets him fired from his local gym in one of the film’s early scenes.
With Teddy, Hart, a dependable if unimaginative box office staple, continues the comedy tradition of playing an alter ego who is significantly less competent, ambitious and successful than themselves. Teddy is a scrappy, hapless hustler, a failed fitness influencer/entrepreneur (seven likes on one video, we’re told) who struggles to be present for his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews, in an unrewarding bit part). He’s the type of guy who forgets to list an address and phone number on flyers for his gym or to re-up on toner for the printer – two plot points that feel oddly outdated for a caper set in 2022. Whatever, because Teddy is also, of course, charming and so clueless as to bumble his way into playing an international hitman.
Said hitman is Harrelson’s Man from Toronto, a knife-wielding cowboy assassin who sounds exactly like Woody Harrelson – as in, not at all Canadian, nor particularly menacing. Which is fine – Harrelson seemingly having a good time and not taking himself too seriously is the film’s most redeeming quality, his hitman with a heart of gold (who clams up around women) shtick occasionally leavening the dull, meaningless plot.
That plot is also dumb, which would not be a huge problem if this movie were fun. Still, I need to mention again that this story hinges on, of all things, a printer – Teddy plans a birthday retreat in coastal Virginia for Lori and prints the cabin reservation details, but because he’s too absent-minded and cheap to replace the toner (?!), he misreads the address and accidentally intercepts Toronto Man’s next hit. (Teddy’s phone was … right there.) His so-bad-it’s-good performance as an extractor works, and soon the FBI has recruited Teddy to impersonate the Man in a sting operation to snag a Venezuelan crime lord, or something. A suave FBI agent looks after Lori and her boozy friend Maggie (Kaley Cuoco, making the most of her 2.5 scenes) in a jealousy side-plot that goes nowhere. Teddy and The Man from Toronto, dispatched again by his shady handler (Ellen Barkin, also with too little screen time), begrudgingly pair up to finish a mission that remains vague and unconvincing throughout.
Harrelson and Hart’s dauntless assassin/guileless impersonator buddy routine works less well here than, say, Hart and The Rock’s “Xtreme Laurel and Hardy” coupling in 2016’s Central Intelligence or Jumanji. Their partnership is baseline compelling but mostly flat, its moments of comedic tension fizzling out quickly – the exasperated Man from Toronto calls Teddy a “whiny little mosquito”, Teddy whines and generally flails about, both somehow survive a tangle with other trained assassins, repeat. The anodyne script from Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner covers a lot of sex jokes, body humor, a couple obligatory digs at Hart’s diminutive stature, and a cringey bit in which Hart uses gender-neutral pronouns as a deflection for not knowing about the poet John Keats. Nothing is really offensive or incompetent, but it never rises to the level of funny or interesting, either.
The stunt choreography certainly tries – the $75m budget for this film allows for a multi-person fight scene on an in-flight cargo plane in which characters unbelievably dangle from a rope at full speed. But it’s not quite enough to make it look believable, or to keep the visual effects seams from showing. A final blowout fight sequence – a hitman on hitman, every weapon bonanza – fares better but still lulls more than engages. It felt like watching someone else play a video game – camera swinging about as if playing a role, hollow caricatures grunting stock phrases, cartoonish violence that only results in mock pain.
That may be some people’s cup of tea, or suitable enough to have on in the background for an hour and 45 minutes. I do not fault people their brainless entertainment of choice. The Man from Toronto’s grip on attention is weak, but the Netflix brand of ephemeral (if expensive) entertainment remains strong.