The Man Review
Streetwise special agent Derrick Vann's (Samuel L. Jackson) partner becomes exposed as a corrupt insider when his executed corpse is found lying on a freeway. Using his connections on the street Vann attempts to bring his killers to justice in an elaborate sting involving a huge arms deal with the mysterious Joey (Luke Goss). Unfortunately for Vann, walking straight in on the sting is bumbling dental supplies salesman Andy Fiddler (Eugene Levy), visiting Detroit to deliver an important speech at a regional marketing convention. After unwittingly involving himself in the deal after he is mistaken for the arms dealer, Fiddler finds himself in a position he can't back out of. In many ways he is the perfect foil for Vann's plan, a man so imbecilic and unthreatening he couldn't possibly arouse suspicion and be fingered as an undercover cop (the 'Man' of the title). Unfortunately this is a situation neither man wants. Gentle family man Fiddler is horrified at his role busting criminals on the mean streets, while Vann finds his patience tested to extremes by his new partners constant blabbering and eccentric mannerisms. Let us get this straight from the outset; 'The Man' is far from a good movie. It is a huge letdown in almost every respect. By rights this turkey should be locked down in the depths of a chest freezer and not thawed out till you're feeling peckish at the end of the year. Despite this, and despite my better judgement, there is something endearing about 'The Man'. Something that just about saves it from a painful existence whiling away in bargain bins nationwide. I'm not sure I can definitively put my finger on what snippet of good fortune pulls this movie out of the bag, but it's there somewhere, working its magic to turn this from a stone-cold disaster into a strangely endearing, if mighty insubstantial romp. Let's first look at how the film goes about wasting the talents of its stars Jackson and Levy. Consider it from any angle and this is great casting. Jackson makes a more than respectable tough guy, and lest we forget, his sterling turns in Tarantino flicks have shown he is no stranger to turning in great performances, delivering witty and verbose prose with a natural gift for comedic timing. Likewise pairing him with Eugene Levy was an inspired choice. Plying his trade in Hollywood for over twenty years now, Levy remains one of the most underrated comedic actors of his generation. The fact that his tombstone will no doubt read “here lies Eugene Levy... you know, 'Jim's dad'”, belies the fact that the man can generate more laughs from a subtle twitch of his eyebrow than most A-list comedy stars can muster in a ninety minute movie. Always the proverbial bridesmaid, never the bride Levy has suffered from what I like to call 'Chevy Chase Syndrome'. Despite immeasurable comic talent, C.C.S. has manifested itself in Levy's inability to neither land decent roles on a consistent basis, nor recognise stinkers when he accepts scripts ('New York Minute'?? Hello??). Consequently, Bill Murray lords it up through judicious choosing of quality material, Chase sits haplessly in limbo until someone has the bright idea to resurrect Clark Griswold, and Levy sits in-between, content with minor roles in a stream of wildly inconsistent movies. 'The Man' certainly won't be the film that makes a leading man out of Levy, but at the least it's refreshing to see him offered his chance in a meatier role sharing the screen time with a bona-fide A-lister. Jackson himself still remains Hollywood's Teflon man, an actor who maintains his credibility and respect despite the fact he seems to sit blindfolded and throw darts at offers to choose his next movie role. Alas 'The Man' fails to draw anything like great comedic performances from the untapped potential constructed in the casting stage. There is no fault to be found with the actors themselves, with both Jackson and Levy admirably making the best with what they have to work with here. It would have been great to see these two seasoned pro's bouncing off each other with a witty and engaging script, but unfortunately Sam and Eugene aren't playing with a full deck here. Although hackneyed, the character profiles of Fiddler and Vann could have potentially made great comedic material. The script however plays like it's written by people who think certain conceits will be funny, without knowing how to actually turn these scenarios into laugh-out-loud material. It's depressing to see such an appealing comedian as Levy flapping with the lazy material he's handed here. Tellingly, the funniest moments come not from the script, but from Levy's natural gift for physical comedy, his face striking poses that the dialogue could only wish to match for entertainment value. The problems apparent in the weak script are only exasperated by the complete lack of affinity with the material that the cack-handed direction of Les Mayfield reveals here. Mayfield, who has carved a niche for himself directing lifeless comedy, strikes again on this movie. His misguided notion of what constitutes comic timing only serves to further hamper the uninspired shenanigans, rendering some signposted laughter moments completely sterile (for the worst case, the painfully unfunny fart-gag sequence has to be seen to be believed, where you can almost see Jackson grinning and baring the embarrassment for his paycheck). For all its obvious and major faults however, there is something entertaining about 'The Man', something that keeps you watching to the very end even if you know you're being served up a reheated mismash of countless better movies. The major enticement of its charm comes from the fact that the film comes out of nowhere, it's such a random choice that you can't help but be intrigued by it. By this I mean that there is a sense that the script seems to have arrived twenty years too late, but somehow in a freakish twist of fate this film ends up getting made. If somebody had told me this was made in 1985 and has been dusted down to release now I would probably have believed them, for this film is so eighties it's like watching time travel. The very conceit of an all action/comedy wisecracking buddy movie curled up and died around the time Eddie Murphy thought 'Boomerang' would make a great career move. Consequently this film has a kind of Twilight Zone entertainment value this keeps you riveted with a bizarre mixture of shock and nostalgic entrancement. The film has more period accuracy than a Gladiatorial epic as the producers have gone to the lengths of installing Bros' frontman Luke Goss as the baddie and bringing in RoboCop's own Bob Morton, Miguel Ferrer, as a ball-bustin' IA man. In fact, the only thing the film lacks in authenticity is an unnecessary montage complete with a synth-heavy Harold Faltermyer score. Of course your marvel and enjoyment ratio will vary accordingly depending on what esteem you hold the archetypal eighties buddy movie in. The interracial interplay of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in 'Running Scared' or Murphy and Nolte in '48 Hrs' your bag? Ever stifled a chortle at the dated antics of Estevez and Drefuss in 'Stakeout'? If you answered yes to either of those then you may find something worthwhile here. Even if it's not fit to lace the boots of those aforementioned movies (or even Levy's first stab at the buddy movie with the late great John Candy 'Armed and Dangerous'), the sheer audaciousness of attempting a movie so out of it's time doesn't fail to instil memories of a happier time, when the music was bad and the hairstyles were worse. As a comedy, 'The Man' is pretty much a whitewash. Poorly written, uninspired direction and a waste of the talents of those involved. As a looking glass into a genre of times gone by, it's somewhat invaluable. It's highly unlikely Hollywood will have something put in their tea a second time to make them roll out an old stage like this again for a long while. If you want to see the great Eugene Levy given a bigger platform then this may be for you, likewise if you fancy basking in nostalgic glory for some eighties buddy movies this may well bring back memories. More strangely fascinating for its conception than entertaining in a traditional sense, this is still potentially worth catching if only for curiosities sake. But don't say I didn't warn you.