A review of Kevin Hart’s The Man From Toronto

(from left) Kevin Hart as Teddy and Woody Harrelson as The Man From Toronto in The Man From Toronto.

(from left) Kevin Hart as Teddy and Woody Harrelson as The Man From Toronto in The man from Toronto
PhotoNetflix

The man from Toronto introduce us to a world where a network of assassins represent different cities and in many cases embody the broadest stereotypes about their hometown. And the one from Toronto, Canada, who grew up on a frozen lake and watched his father be mauled by bears, is played by… Woody Harrelson. One of the most Texan sounding actors ever in Texas. Perhaps a viewer will suspect, rightly, that he was not the original casting choice. Indeed, before Harrelson, the role was intended for Jason Statham. The most Cockney action star ever Cockney.

Any true Canadian A-lister must have been busy that day. Or maybe just pretend they were, because The man from Toronto‘s script is really bad. One trick after another glues scenes together, with bits of backstory suddenly being added at the point when they’re essential to the story, rather than being established before. For a character-driven comedy with a “confused identity” that lives or dies based on the humorous interactions between two A-list leads, the crappy script hardly constitutes life support.

Kevin Hart plays Teddy, a potential inventor of fitness products who tends to screw up the details, but his wife (Jasmine Matthews) still loves him. Determined to give her a good time despite all the setbacks in his career, he books a nice weekend away, but his lack of attention to details leads him to the wrong house, where Randy, the man from Toronto, is expected to take a place of torture and murder. Teddy is mistakenly identified by other major players as the man from Toronto, and under the rules of the movie comedy, the US government insists that he play along until they get crucial, world-saving information. It’s yet another measure of the scenario’s flaws that the villains’ plan is never quite understandable; sure, it’s a MacGuffin, so it probably doesn’t have to be that way, but it all feels just as much like a first draft, where a simple rewrite could have clarified and brought things together so much more efficiently.

This is the kind of movie where Kaley Cuoco shows up late in the game as a previously unknown character to make some crazy sitcom jokes as part of a double-date misunderstanding. She’s naturally good at such things, but how much better could she have been served if someone had bothered to give her a little backstory? Again, we learn character traits afterwards.

As an actor, Hart generally works best as the loudest part of an ensemble (Think like a man and the jumanjic sequels) or against a straight man with impeccable timing, such as Dwayne Johnson or Ice Cube. In conjunction with another comedian, such as Will Ferrell in To become hard or Tiffany Haddish in evening school, they must be able to match or exceed his energy. Harrelson, who is more of a comedic character actor, doesn’t really fit the bill; even when he’s playing stone cold badasses, like Mickey Knox in Natural killers or Tallahassee in the Zombieland movies, there’s a satirical edge that makes fun of the attitude. And when he does pure comedy, he tends to downplay. Statham, complete Spy mode, would have been a strong choice to combine with Hart. Harrelson is as effective here as a credible Canadian, that is, not at all. He’s too broad to be a sounding board, and not hilariously crazy enough to push Hart any further.

The man from Toronto | Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson | Official trailer | Netflix

The director of all this is Patrick Hughes, of the Expendables 3 and The Hitman’s Bodyguard movies. There’s nothing here to suggest he’s exceptional at his job, though the action is coherent to say the least. In the film’s most notable sequence, Hart falls from a series of hanging lamps like the world’s worst Super Mario player, though he never really makes the character’s danger feel. Hart gets hit and makes quite a few jokes, but his reactions to all the slapstick feel strangely low-key. Yelling is something he usually does well, so turning the volume down is counterintuitive.

Somehow, at one point, this was intended for release in theaters where it would surely have died. On Netflix, the bar is lower and the algorithm can count it as a view if someone watches part of it and then turns it off. If it hadn’t been my job to finish it, I certainly would have.

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