The Man from Toronto
Classification: PG; 110 minutes
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Written by Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner
Starring Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson and Ellen Barkin
Streaming on Netflix starting June 24
It is easier to discuss the new Netflix movie The Man from Toronto by first describing what it is not. As in: It is not a remake of the forgotten 1933 British romantic comedy also called The Man from Toronto, which follows the opposites-attract pairing of an Englishwoman and a Canadian. The new film also isn’t a Netflix movie, not really – it was produced by Sony Pictures with the intention of playing theatres, until the studio sold the title off to the streaming giant rather than roll the dice with pandemic-wary audiences. But most importantly, 2022′s The Man from Toronto doesn’t feature all that much Toronto. Not intentionally, anyway.
A stupendously dull action-comedy that is devoid of both thrills and humour, The Man from Toronto features Kevin Hart at his most Hart-iest, playing a fast-talking beta type named Teddy, who is failing at both his “contactless boxing gym” business and his marriage. While planning a romantic weekend getaway, Teddy accidentally arrives at the wrong cabin and is mistaken for “The Man from Toronto,” the code-name for a mysterious, highly skilled assassin, who is feared across the globe. To make a very long and tedious set-up mercifully short, Teddy must now impersonate TMFT at the behest of the FBI, a scheme that leads him straight into the hands of the real, natural Canadian-born killer (played by Woody Harrelson). Allegedly entertaining and violent high jinks supposedly follow, yet never actually arrive.
And that CanCon bait? There is one brief stock-footage shot of Toronto’s skyline during a scene in which TMFT heads to his secret home-base. But otherwise the city is a mere rhetorical gag, with much of the story taking place in Washington, Virginia and Miami. Except, in a perverse twist of location-scouting fate, Toronto itself is used to double as all those locales, thanks to the city turning out to be a more production-friendly hub during the height of the pandemic, when filming began. To recap: This is a movie about a man from Toronto, which doesn’t take place in Toronto, yet is filmed entirely in Toronto.
But it’s okay, really: This backward-dumb concept is in total alignment with the movie’s ultimate ambitions, or lack thereof.
As directed/hacked out by Patrick Hughes, the film represents the nadir of the once-reliable buddy/action-comedy genre, whose descent into the eighth layer of Hollywood Hell was kick-started by Hughes’s own viciously awful filmography: The Expendables 3, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and last year’s execrable The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife. There is an artless, brain-dead drudgery to Hughes’s work that is a horrifying wonder to behold. The humour is insipid. The fights are sloppy when not incoherent. And the characters are thinly conceived annoyances cooked up with Mad Lib-sponsored Final Draft malware. You feel for Harrelson, who stepped in at the last minute after Jason Statham backed out, perhaps realizing that he’s never tried to speak in any accent other than his own … or maybe just having glanced at the script.
If there is any one trademark of Cinema de Hughes, it is the recurring shtick of characters getting unexpectedly mowed down by speeding vehicles and emerging unscathed – a gag employed here to soul-deadening effect.
There may be some excitable chatter about The Man from Toronto’s late-film set-piece, an extended “one-shot” brawl between Harrelson and a roster of anonymous rivals. But Hughes completely misunderstands the over-employed camera trick’s presumed power, untethering any possible thrills to an emotional or baseline narrative stake. Really, it is that scene’s follow-up, a no-frills showdown set inside a building called “Hughes Food Processing,” that reveals the filmmaker’s guiding philosophy: Grind ‘em out, cheap and quick.
Welcome to Hogtown, folks.
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