The tedious buddy action flick “The Man From Toronto” introduces an all-time loser in Teddy Jackson (Kevin Hart). He’s a recognizable Hart character: a fast talker with big promises — he hawks self-help fitness wear through his tacky YouTube videos — who never delivers. He is both the film’s “hero” and its chump. A man so aimless the locals of Yorktown, Va., use his name as a verb: “Teddyed” (screwed up).
In every sense of the word, “The Man from Toronto” is Teddyed.
Director Patrick Hughes’ film should be avoided at all cost. It was originally slated to star Hart and Jason Statham, but Woody Harrelson stepped in when the latter exited due to creative differences. The pandemic caused further delays during the early days of 2020. Once completed, Sony sold the movie to Netflix, where it unceremoniously drops more than two years later. Time did little to smooth out the cheap cracks and painted-over fissures of Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner’s undercooked screenplay.
Floundering comes naturally to Teddy. He loses his job printing sales material for a local boxing gym after forgetting to list an address and phone number on the fliers. His idea for a training program built around no-contact boxing also finds few takers. In a bid for romance he takes his beleaguered wife, Lori (Jasmine Mathews), on a vacation to a rented cabin in Onancock, Va., for a baby-making getaway in celebration of her birthday (it’s unclear which Teddy finds more important). But Teddy can’t even get this right: By forgetting to add toner to his printer, the address of the cabin isn’t clear. After dropping Lori off at the spa he arrives at the wrong place and is mistaken by a couple of goons for the titular man from Toronto, a legendary hitman and interrogator.
Harrelson plays the real assassin, whose childhood origin story involves witnessing a bear filet his grandfather in the cold Canadian wilderness. It’s a rough parody of a tragic Man in Black character, and Harrelson doesn’t seem to know whether to play him as comedic or menacing. This killer’s handler, portrayed by Ellen Barkin, sent him to Virginia to obtain sensitive government information for former Venezuelan colonel Sebastian Marin. An unsuspecting Teddy takes the contract, is enlisted by the FBI to foil Marin’s plan and is summarily kidnapped by the hitman so they can complete the job together. The convoluted plot somehow makes even less sense when you watch the film.
“The Man From Toronto” plays like the walking corpse of better, far more entertaining movies. A midair fight on a plane cribs from “Air Force One” when Harrelson weaponizes a payload door — complete with visual effects less impressive than in the 25-year-old Harrison Ford vehicle. At one point the plane bounces off the water like a tube of toothpaste in the sink.
When the hitman’s handler sends “The Man From Miami” (Pierson Fode), a younger, faster murderer, to eliminate the leads, a fight copying “Rush Hour” nearly shot-for-shot ensues, but without the physical rigor of Jackie Chan, the comedic aplomb of Chris Tucker or the chemistry shared by those performer. At every turn, Hughes borrows blueprints from successful films only to draw over them with crayons.
Harrelson and Hart also share an odd rapport. Scenes with a physically pained-looking Harrelson opposite Hart yapping away about the high body count — in the most bloodless action movie in some time — die by cringe. The film’s dull and vapid visual language is equally depressing, including the underlit compositions of cinematographer Rob Hardy (genuinely shocking from the man who shot “Annihilation”) and unintelligible editing from Craig Alpert. Juvenile jokes involve pratfalls, gender neutrality, vomiting and dated Latin lover stereotypes, while Teddy’s wife never evolves beyond a gullible punchline for her husband’s ignorance.
Still, it might all be a little palatable if the fight scenes at least brought some delight. But the choreography lacks verve and the sound provides zero punch. The final freakout, a large-scale brawl in a boxing gym, relies on nauseating handhelds and long takes boasting the visceral flair of a video game screencap.
One question looms large: Are we supposed to root for Teddy? A supremely unlikable person, he must learn to intimidate people in the same way his hitman best friend does. He needs, in the words of this killer, to “stop being a wuss.” But this film doesn’t give any reason to cheer for anyone or anything (except maybe the end credits, which, weirdly, rip off “Dodgeball”). By the time it’s over you not only hope Teddy’s wife runs far, far away from him — you’ll hope to follow her wherever this dried husk of a movie doesn’t exist.
‘The Man From Toronto’
Rating: PG-13, for violence throughout, some strong language and suggestive material
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: On Netflix June 24