The great irony of action-comedies involving renegade cops is that all maverick law-enforcement professionals tend to rebel in a nearly identical fashion. So it would perhaps be fair to describe these irreverent anti-heroes not as playing by their own rules, but as playing by the renegade-cop rules, which dictate that the in-your-face crime-stopper must curse; treat traffic laws, civil liberties, and Miranda rights as personal affronts; ruin one or more marriages through obsessive commitment to work; and scowl indignantly when superior officers angrily demand their badges and guns after they go too far.
In The Man, Samuel L. Jackson plays an ATF agent in a performance that doesn't playfully spoof his tough-guy image so much as lazily recycle it. In a star turn that amounts to little more than a sneer, a steely glare, and a never-ending stream of profanities, Jackson plays a distrustful Detroit lawman who, through a series of events far too idiotic to recount, ends up recruiting visiting dental-supplies salesman Eugene Levy as a makeshift partner in his bid to bring down a big-time arms dealer.
Neither Jackson nor the equally typecast Levy is called upon to convey anything beyond the broadest outlines of their personas: Jackson glares, curses, and behaves like a badass, while Levy wiggles his caterpillar eyebrows, chatters nervously, and wrestles with meat-induced flatulence. As in many renegade-cop movies, including Jackson's lifeless redux of Shaft, the problem of police brutality in this post-Rodney King, post-Amadou Diallo era is treated as a glib joke. When Jackson beats an informant over the head with a trashcan lid, or pins him against a wall with his car, the audience is expected to laugh rather than be horrified by a wanton abuse of power. Then again, it seems silly to get angry about a trifle as inconsequential as The Man, a movie whose reliance on cliché, formula, and stereotype demand only the tiniest sliver of attention. It's the kind of featherweight slot-filler people turn off after 15 minutes on a plane or have on in the background on cable while they vacuum the floor.