The asinine insistence of filmmakers to stick with tried-and-tired formulas is becoming harder to comprehend. No one is asking you to completely overhaul the moviemaking process, guys, but it wouldn’t kill you to throw in at least some creativity once in a while. In this vein is the buddy-action comedy “The Man,” set in Detroit and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy (“American Wedding”). Though the film is good for a few (awkward) laughs, it provides very little in the way of substance. And no matter which way you spin it, this is a movie we have all seen before.
Imagine this groundbreaking premise: You’re in a big city full of bad guys intent upon stealing confiscated guns from the police and putting them back on the streets. They’re the Robin Hoods of the criminal underworld, if you will. A dirty cop helps them but then he gets shot. His partner, Derrick Vann (Jackson), comes under suspicion for the murder, so he decides to take the law into his own hands and catch the bad guys. But there’s a problem: He meets the unsuspecting average Joe, Andy Fidler (Levy), and adventure and hilarity supposedly ensue.
Jackson’s presence alone adds credibility to the film that it doesn’t deserve, but his character is dry and held back by an impossibly childish script. Vann is built so by-the-book that audiences will swear that just saw Chris Tucker or Eddie Murphy in the same film a few years ago. His aloofness, introversion and lack of friends are traits borrowed from any one of the five to six films that resemble “The Man” right down to the usual workaholic dad nonsense.
The movie’s villains are imbecilic to the extent that if real-world criminals were this stupid, we’d never have to worry about them at all. Why, for example, would you meet for an exchange on major-city intersections and not in one of the city’s many abandoned areas? Why again would you come all the way from Britain to steal some handguns in Detroit? As Jackson’s character puts it, the villains have all the intellect and cunning of male Spice Girls.
In a film that has so many drawbacks, it’s probably accidental that some insightful content found its way into the muddled screenplay. But where the movie could have gone for easy fish-out-of-water sight gags, it digs deeper. Levy’s character, a middle-class dental-supply salesman from suburban Wisconsin, adds a level of apt social commentary. Though he is frightened by the harshness of the inner city, he never judges Jackson’s character or his family and continuously remains faithful and kind to them. Those from the inner city who feel that rich suburbanites look down on them would be wise to note that the situation between the two is, in actuality, very much like the one in this film. The movie makes the wise observation that perhaps the divide between the inner city and the suburbs could be reconciled if each of the two sides simply took the time to understand the other.
But even with its unexpected insights, “The Man” never really goes anywhere with them, leaving us little more than 83 minutes of two very talented actors dropping to the level of fart jokes and profanity-laced punch lines. The monumental waste of time and effort that results will make you scream out as the clean-cut Fidler character often does while trying to temper his language, “Oh fuc-rying out loud!”
Rating: 1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars