If you’re going to be another uninspired action buddy comedy from a director who has just made two of them – The Hitman’s Bodyguard and its sequel – then at least it helps to have a scene like the boxing gym fight near the end of The Man from Toronto. Australian director Patrick Hughes, his cameraman Rob Hardy and stunt choreographer Philip Silvera have given us a montage of mayhem that recalls that frenetic church fight in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Free weights are thrown, minions catapult off the ropes, and combatants are dispatched with (mostly non-fatal) conks on the head and other moments of slapstick goodness. There are even axes and chainsaws involved, somehow. Best of all, camera trickery gives it the sense it’s all proceeding forward in one take.


Sadly, this pocket of inspiration stands out from the mediocre movie surrounding it. This mediocre movie involves standard mistaken identity tropes in which an ordinary guy (Kevin Hart) is confused for a contract killer identified only by the titular pseudonym. That’s Woody Harrelson. These are both likable performers, and matching them might have been a masterstroke, but they don’t have all that much chemistry. More problematically, their adventures require a lot of Hart fretting and nattering as he dodges bullets – a hallmark of his early career that the actor has worked to leave behind.

Teddy (Hart) is an employee of that boxing gym, but he’s got bigger things on his mind, pioneering prop-aided workout routines that he hopes will take off – rather than always leaving him tangled in those props as he tries to demo them. His more immediate concern is a weekend away with his wife Lori (Jasmine Matthews), whose unfailing belief in him is sweet. She loves him in spite of his screw-ups, but to prove that he’s not just a guy with execution problems, he plans a weekend away in a cabin for her birthday, one that begins with a day of pampering for her at the day spa. But because someone – presumably Teddy – didn’t replace the toner, he incorrectly reads the address for the cabin on the faded printout. He shows up instead at a place where thugs are expecting … the man from Toronto.

Toronto – an appropriate name for Harrelson, since all the characters in his movie Zombieland were named after cities – has indeed been dispatched to this location by his handler (Ellen Barkin). However, since Teddy beats him there, it’s Teddy who is led into the basement to torture some highly sought-after information from the man who’s hanging from the ceiling. Teddy improvises his way out of that jam. Now, when Toronto does arrive, the two have to team up to find out who may be double-crossing Toronto – now that they’ve mistaken Teddy for him.

The Man from Toronto – no relation to the 1933 comedy of the same name – clearly takes place in a post-John Wick world, and the impressive stunts aren’t the only indication. Harrelson’s character is not the only “the man from,” as the climax introduces a number of other men from a number of other cities, revealing a Wick-style assassin underworld that is just beyond the perception of average citizens. It isn’t a bad idea to take those basic ingredients and make them explicitly comedic, and Harrelson and Hart are possibly the right ones to do it. To do that you need decent banter and more than just one memorable set piece. Writers Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner aren’t give us the former, and the latter seems to have required all the energies of the production team, leaving too little for the rest of the movie.


Hughes’ film feels in the vicinity of being fun without quite getting there. Filling in the margins of this movie are charismatic side players like Kaley Cuoco, who brings her own brand of cheekiness to the material. There’s always a delicate balance, though, when you’re playing violent content for laughs, and a couple scenes that walk that line just lie there like a severed thumb. (A severed thumb actually being part of the story at one point.) Hughes’ direction in these scenes underscores their awkwardness, particularly one moment where Hart tells a character who’s thrashing around in a vat of acid to “just die already.” That’s not the voice of the Teddy character we’ve been introduced to – it’s the voice of screenwriters who thinks a character’s extended death throes while their skin is being eaten away by acid are awkward, and therefore, funny.


The lingering impression of The Man from Toronto, though, is that there will be no lingering impression. This is one of the most common sorts of movies that gets made these days, usually differing only in how much it goes for our gag reflex while going for our laugh reflex. The stars of this movie are better than this least amount that is asked of them. Then again, most people would be.


The Man from Toronto is currently streaming on Netflix.

5 / 10