September 12, 2005

The Man2 Stars

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Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Chris Farley and David Spade; all these pairs had it. Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy do not have it. That “it” is the dynamic, rolling charge created by actors with good chemistry which electrifies the screen and excites the audience. This dynamism is important to any movie, but crucial to a “buddy movie,” like The Man. It’s not that the two actors don’t have compatibility, but since the script is so bad, the audience needs nothing short of nuclear fission in order for The Man to take flight.

Jackson plays Special Agent Derrick Vann, a virile, independent, take-no-prisoners cop working for the ATF in Detroit, and Levy plays Andy Fidler, a loquacious, neurotic, USA Today-reading dental supplies salesman. When a load of guns is stolen from the ATF lock-room and Vann’s partner winds up dead, he learns of an arms drop off that is going to take place at a cafe between a baddie named the Turk and Joey (Luke Gross). Fidler, who is in Detroit to give a speech at a dental convention, gets mistaken at the cafe for the Turk by Joey, who hands him a brown paper bag with a gun and a cell phone in it. Enter Vann, who arrests Fidler, thinking he’s the Turk. While in his car, Vann learns the truth, but he coerces Fidler to play along so that Vann can bust Joey and his gang and find the murderer of his partner.

The rest of the plot involves a cat-and-mouse chase for the guns and Joey and Co. But most of the movie involves Fidler and Vann just talking in the car, Fidler screwing up his role as the Turk, and Vann yelling and beating up on him for doing so.

The appeal of the film relies on Jackson’s badassness and sangfroid and Levy’s amiable idiocy, and both actors are experts at their respective roles. However, it’s the uncomfortable grinding together of these two personalities that renders both unfunny. Levy is more charming when he is less, oh, present in his films.

The greatest structural flaw in The Man is its horrific script. Yes, it’s amusing that Levy is a dental supplies salesman, and there were some other elements that made me smirk inwardly. But I did not laugh once throughout the whole film. When Levy gets grazed in the butt by a bullet, Vann suggests that he puts taco sauce on it because it’s a “natural antiseptic.” So the next ten or so lines of dialogue revolve around this stupid subject, with Levy saying things like, “You want me to put taco sauce on my butt? Taco sauce!!??” (I could almost see the scriptwriter talking vicariously through Levy: “Get it, folks! He wants him to put taco sauce on his bum!! Taco sauce!!! Hah? Hah?”) And then the movie resorts to the one joke that is a sure sign a movie is headed nowhere: fart jokes.

The only thing that keeps the movie from becoming absolutely atrocious, however, is Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is just too damn good of an actor, and yes, just too damn cool, to ever be in an abominable movie. And he does a perfectly fine acting job in this movie, too I just couldn’t help shaking my head thinking, “Why Sam, why?”

Not only did The Man fail to make me laugh, it made me a bit sad, too. At one point, Levy’s character is eating a hamburger, and Jackson says, “That is a tasty burger.” And just for a moment, I experienced the unspeakable excitement of anticipating Jackson donning a glistening fro and suit and tie, instilling fear in the hearts of his victims with bible-quoting fury, and cruising down the roads of L.A. contemplating the myriad noms de Big Mac. You can imagine my letdown when he segued into a fart joke.

Archived article by Terry Fedigan
Sun Contributor