The Man From Toronto introduces us to a world in which a network of hitmen represent various cities, and in many cases, embody the broadest stereotypes about their hometowns. And the one from Toronto, Canada, who grew up on a frozen lake and watched his father get mauled by bears, is played by...Woody Harrelson. One of the most Texan sounding actors to ever Texas. Perhaps a viewer might suspect, correctly, he was not the original casting choice. Indeed, before Harrelson, the role was meant for Jason Statham. The most Cockney action star to ever Cockney.
Every actual Canadian A-lister must’ve been busy that day. Or possibly just pretending they were, because The Man From Toronto’s script is really bad. One contrivance after another pastes together scenes, with bits of backstory suddenly added the moment they’re essential to the story, rather than being established earlier. For a character-driven “mistaken identity” comedy that lives or dies based on the humorous interactions between two A-list leads, its lousy script barely constitutes life support.
Kevin Hart plays Teddy, a would-be inventor of fitness products who tends to screw up the details, but his wife (Jasmine Matthews) still loves him nonetheless. Determined to show her a good time despite all his career setbacks, he books a nice weekend vacation, but his inattention to detail leads him to the wrong house, where Randy, the Man From Toronto, is expected for a spot of torture and killing. Teddy gets mistakenly identified by other major players as the Man From Toronto, and under movie comedy rules, the U.S. government insists he play along until they get some crucial, world-saving information. It’s yet another measure of the screenplay’s flaws that the villains’ plan is never entirely comprehensible; sure, it’s a MacGuffin, so it arguably doesn’t have to be, but it all just feels so much like a first draft, where a simple rewrite could have clarified and tied things together so much more efficiently.
This is the sort of movie that has Kaley Cuoco show up late in the game as a previously unestablished character to do some wacky sitcom hijinks as part of a double-date misunderstanding. She’s naturally good at such things, but how much better could she have been served had anyone bothered to give her an iota of backstory? Again, we learn character traits after the fact.
As an actor, Hart generally works best either as the loudest part of an ensemble (Think Like A Man and the Jumanji sequels) or opposite a straight man with impeccable timing, like Dwayne Johnson or Ice Cube. When paired with another comedian, like Will Ferrell in Get Hard or Tiffany Haddish in Night School, they have to be able to match or surpass his energy. Harrelson, who’s more of a comedic character actor, doesn’t really fit the bill; even when he plays stone cold badasses, like Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers or Tallahassee in the Zombieland movies, there’s a satirical edge mocking the posturing. And when he does pure comedy, his tendency is to underplay. Statham, in full Spy mode, would have been a strong choice to pair with Hart. Harrelson is as effective a foil here as he is a credible Canadian, which is to say, not at all. He’s too broad to be a sounding board, and not hilariously frantic enough to push Hart further.
The director of all this is Patrick Hughes, of the Expendables 3 and The Hitman’s Bodyguard films. There’s nothing here to suggest he’s exceptional at his work, though the action is at least coherent. The movie’s most notable sequence sees Hart falling from a series of hanging light fixtures like the world’s worst Super Mario player, though he never really makes the character’s jeopardy palpable. Hart gets hit and takes pratfalls quite a bit, but his reactions to all the slapstick feel strangely low-key. Screaming is a thing he does well, usually, so turning the volume down on that is counter-intuitive.
Somehow, this was at one point intended for release in theaters, where it surely would have died. On Netflix, the bar is lower, and the algorithm may count it as a view if somebody watches part of it and then turns it off. Had it not been my job to finish, that’s certainly what I’d have done.