The Man From Toronto film review: Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson’s chemistry as a mismatched duo salvages film

For an action-comedy, The Man From Toronto is low on engrossing stunts, and the quota of humour almost entirely comprises slapstick

Vinayak Chakravorty June 26, 2022 07:32:46 IST


The Man From Toronto draws reason to create a plot from an identity goof-up that lets an idiot become an assassin — that too with the official nod of the US government. Once you have glossed over the lunacy of the idea, the film is your assembly-line action-comedy that taps into the contrasting image traits of Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson in a bid to set up odd-couple chemistry, which gives the screenplay its best bits through a runtime of around 110 minutes.

Aussie helmer Patrick Hughes worked with such generic cliches when he directed The Hitman’s Bodyguard franchise, and the outcome was sufficiently lucrative for his producers. Not surprisingly, in a repeat of The Hitman pattern, originality of plot and plot spins ranks low on Hughes’ list of priorities this time, too. The focus is on delivering fast-paced drama laced with slapstick humour, never mind if the formula unfolds as familiar set pieces from a countless films of the past. As Hart and Harrelson match beats playing out essential tropes, they bring back flashes of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson over the two films in The Hitman series.

For Hart as well as Harrelson, the film is essentially a scope to remind fans of their core areas of saleability as Hollywood entertainers. Hughes and his team of script writers (Robbie Fox and Jason Blumenthal) were obviously focused on expanding a threadbare idea that would let Hart play the field as the archetypal screw-up who inadvertently gets caught in a mess beyond his control. Harrelson steps into a role that was originally written with Jason Statham in mind, so you get an idea of his job profile here. He plays a dangerous assassin on a top-secret mission. The trick is one of the oldest in Hollywood: Pitch two contrasting stereotypes in a situation of mix-up and let the gags ’n stunt fest play out. The Hitman films apart, the formula has regularly worked down the decades, in films ranging from Rush Hour, 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon to Bad Boys, Shanghai Noon and Central Intelligence.

The Man From Toronto film review Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelsons chemistry as a mismatched duo salvages film

Woody Harrelson and Kevin Hart in a still from The Man From Toronto

If writer Fox and his screenplay collaborator Chris Bremner show no intention of exploring action-comedy beyond the hackneyed, Hughes wastes no time in trying to be innovative either. The plot presents Hart as Teddy Jackson, a bumbling loser from New York City who plans a quiet weekend getaway for his wife at a resort in remote Virginia. Prone mess things up as ever, Teddy ends up checking into the wrong cabin at the accommodation and is in for a bizarre encounter. It does not take him long to realise he has been mistaken for a deadly hitman who goes by the name of The Man From Toronto. No sooner is Teddy briefed about his ‘job’, the law strikes. The government agents of course realise Teddy isn’t the hitman they are after, but they have an idea. They ask him to continue pretending to be The Man From Toronto in order to infiltrate and extract an important information. Insane as the brainwave seems, Teddy is forced to go on. The situation complicates further for him when the actual killer, whose real name is Randy (Harrelson), turns up and realises his best interest lies in letting Teddy continue posing as The Man From Toronto.

That, in a nutshell, is the backdrop against which much of what goes on in the film unfolds, and if it seems utterly nonsensical then that’s what it is. Surprisingly, although the flimsy storyline leaves ample room, the writers have created a narrative that is actually low on engrossing action. What prevents the storytelling process from collapsing entirely, despite the paucity of original ideas, is the fact that the element of humour has been cleverly used, in dialogues as well as plot situations.

The otherwise predictable narrative comes alive mostly in scenes that let Hart and Harrelson square off comically. Hart, whose brand of humour as a stand-up comic banks largely on the ability to laugh at himself, is known for mixing caustic and low-brow humour in individual gigs. Here, he maxes out on played-to-gallery jokes in the slapstick scenes even as Harrelson, who towers a few inches above him, tries giving a menacing twist to humour. The commonest cliche that sustains odd-couple comedies is that you know very well all along that the underdog will find a way at the expense of the ‘stronger’ guy. The trope is constantly used in this film as Hart and Harrelson go about living familiar prototypes on screen. The problem with Hart is he somehow tends to forsake his character traits and becomes Kevin Hart in almost every film after a point. He does that to Teddy, too. With Harrelson, humour works best when he gets the chance to serve it with understated ease. He does adequately, though one is tempted to imagine how Jason Statham would fit in Randy’s boots, mixing poker-faced machismo with a few silly laughs.

In the end, Hart and Harrelson remain the saving grace, and reason why the film never gets boring. The Man From Toronto is mindless formulaic fun if you dig that sort of a thing, maintaining its tempo all along and leaving just enough scope for a sequel.

Rating: * * and 1/2

The Man From Toronto is streaming on Netflix.

Vinayak Chakravorty is a critic, columnist, and film journalist based in Delhi-NCR.

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