With practically no fanfare whatsoever, Netflix’s “The Man From Toronto” dropped on the streaming platform with a thud. And it’s pretty obvious why. This action-driven buddy-comedy from director Patrick Hughes (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”) is so strictly beholden to countless other movies that came before it. It has its moments, but not enough of them to make up for the overwhelming feeling that we’ve seen all of this before.
“The Man From Toronto” puts together the mismatched couple of Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson in a movie that’s never as funny as it tries to be or as thrilling as it wants to be. It features Hart doing his usual little-man routine and Harrelson doing variations of several characters he has played in the past. As usual, Hart is skittish, shrill, and utterly reliant on a straight man for his act to work. Harrelson is a decent foil despite never being as menacing or funny as the movie needs. He looks like Christopher Lloyd‘s Judge Doom from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” – decked in black with a round brimmed hat and dark glasses.
Hart plays Teddy Jackson, a failed inventor (sort of) and wannabe fitness instructor. He’s a guy who always has big (and often dumb) ideas but never pays attention to the details. So it’s no surprise that they inevitably fail. Yet despite his constant blunders and languid career, Teddy still has the love and support of his incredibly tolerant wife Lori (a good but woefully underused Jasmine Matthews). For her birthday, Teddy whisks her away to the resort town of Onancock, Virginia. But wouldn’t you know it, his slapdash antics makes a mess of things.
Harrelson plays a ruthless interrogator/hitman simply known as “The Man From Toronto”. He’s part of a network of assassins, each named after the different cities around the world where they’re based. He gets his jobs from a mysterious voice on his phone called The Handler (Ellen Barkin). After successfully collecting a healthy payday in Utah, TMFT gets a call from The Handler who offers him a $2 million job. It’s a two-phase extraction that (wouldn’t you know it) begins in Onancock, Virginia.
After arriving in Onancock, Terry drops Lori off at a day spa and heads to their rental cabin to meet with the owner. But, he goofs up and ends up in the wrong cabin where he is mistaken for The Man From Toronto. Meanwhile, the actual TMFT watches from a distance. From there, the FBI gets involved and force Teddy to carry on his ruse while an exiled Venezuelan Colonel (Alejandro de Hoyos) and his equally sinister wife Daniela (Lela Loren) plot to assassinate Venezuela’s president. Oh, and there’s an exploding cake.
If that sounds like a jumbled up mess, it’s because it kinda is. Co-writers Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner toss in and spin together too many story angles, most of which are fairly conventional on their own. We also get several amusing yet overall inconsequential side-characters. For example, singer and telenovela star Jencarlos Canela plays a debonair FBI agent tasked with watching over Lori while Teddy is at work for the government. Pierson Fodé gets in a few good licks playing The Man From Miami. Even Kaley Cuoco shows up later with her signature zany energy. But her character isn’t given an inkling of a backstory and is handcuffed by some really bad writing.
Ultimately it all falls on Hart and Harrelson who make for an quirky pairing. As Teddy and TMFT rollick along in full buddy-movie mode, the two actors give it their all. They deliver the occasional comical moment and we get a couple of good action scenes (there’s one hilariously kinetic and proudly over-the-top fight sequence near the end that almost saves the movie). Interestingly, Jason Statham was originally tagged to play the titular character, and it would have been interesting to see what he would have brought to the film. But in his defense, Harrelson isn’t the issue here. It’s the movie’s beat-by-beat familiarity and lack of punch. I suppose it’s passable entertainment. Just don’t expect too much. “The Man From Toronto” is streaming now on Netflix.