In Patrick Hughes’ “The Man from Toronto,” a throwback buddy action-comedy that offsets its run-of-the-mill sense of humor with a pair of appealing leads, everything about the lovable Teddy Jackson (Kevin Hart) screams screw-up from the get-go.
A soon-to-be-jobless salesperson at a modest Virginia gym, Teddy is introduced via a series of hysterically cringe-y online videos in which he stubbornly tries to launch the next big workout sensation. But his elastic resistance belt TeddyBand — one of his painfully inane inventions — does nothing other than slap him in the face. The dodgy pull-up bar he’s designed? It promptly collapses. In fact, this wannabe internet sensation is so famously a failure in his pursuits that his saintly wife Lori’s (Jasmine Matthews) law-firm colleagues have coined the saying “Teddy’ed it” after him, a phrase used whenever someone messes up at work.
What do you get when someone so inept gets mistaken for a notoriously competent assassin — namely, poker-faced Woody Harrelson’s eponymous “MFT” — and unwittingly teams up with him on a risky mission? Naturally, a big, fun mess that involves globe-trotting deeds, surly hitmen, plenty of acerbic bickering and the FBI. To their credit, screenwriters Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner cook up an appealing dish from this recognizable recipe, even as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” director Hughes gradually overstuffs their simple plot toward the finale.
On the whole, however, the team still delivers something compulsively watchable, with playful nods to countless opposites-attract, good cop/bad cop buddy flicks, à la “48 Hours,” “Trading Places” and “Lethal Weapon.” In that regard, “The Man from Toronto” — originally slated for theaters by Sony pre-pandemic and now being released by Netflix after long Covid-related delays — should find a healthy audience in the streaming world through its familiar nostalgic aura and ever-charismatic stars.
So how does the mix-up happen exactly? It all starts with an AirBnB address rendered illegible by Teddy’s printer. (He isn’t particularly gifted at maintaining household electronics.) It feels like a contrived way to kickstart things, but you go along with it anyway when Teddy surprises his abundantly tolerant wife Lori with the romantic arrangements before her birthday. And in due course, he inevitably shows up at a very wrong address where the infamous MFT is scheduled to torture some top-secret information out of an international criminal, using his brutally medieval methods that involve a substantial number of blades. Cutting a deal with the FBI after the confusion, Teddy agrees to continue posing as the MFT to help them bring down a global network of dangerous crooks.
The movie spares us the sight of the real Torontonian filleting his subjects with his sharpened tools, though it’s clear that he takes ample pride in the process. Through a playful intro, we get the sense that this poetry-loving closet foodie would rather use his knife skills for culinary pursuits than chasing handsomely paid jobs masterminded by his handler, a Charlie-esque figure played by an enigmatic Ellen Barkin.
It’s all too foreseeable from here on out once the MFT, who never seems quite as tough as his reputation suggests, puts the pieces together and exploits a clueless Teddy as his professional wingman. But we ease into the laid-back predictability of it all so smoothly, “The Man from Toronto” survives its flaws. Also an asset is the well-defined bromance chemistry between a delightfully motormouth Hart and quietly sarcastic Harrelson, as their distinctly dissimilar characters correct course for one another through escapades both airborne and earthbound.
Working from a far better script than both the rambling “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and stuffy “The Expendables 3,” Hughes friskily choreographs numerous high-octane fight and chase sequences around them, coherently edited by Craig Albert and captured by “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” cinematographer Rob Hardy’s agile lens. While the resulting package is far less elegant than an “MI” movie, it still exudes an old-fashioned cinematic vibe — assuming you can overlook one or two glaring green screens, that is.
Which is why it’s a bummer when “The Man from Toronto” surrenders to a needlessly loud and bloated finale, a common misstep that pollutes many a blockbuster these days. Indeed, you wish the time spent introducing various other “Men” — from Tacoma, Tokyo, Moscow, etc. — in the last act had been dedicated to deepening the film’s two main female characters, instead of haphazardly setting the ground for potential sequels and spin-offs. One of these women is the inexplicably serene Lori, whose extreme patience with Teddy we never quite buy. The other is MFT’s eventual love interest, Anne, played by the alluring Kaley Cuoco of “The Flight Attendant,” with proven chops to give any male spy a run for his money. Unfortunately, both of these women feel a little too one-dimensionally male-engineered. Still, there’s enough verve and charm here to keep us glued to the screen for a dose of light-on-its-feet action, however forgettable it may be in the long run.
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