Comedy-thriller is low on “toner”, high on laughs
Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson are two of the most creative and capable performers in the comedy genre in Hollywood. Even if a joke is not funny, the way they deliver it makes it so.
Their involvement in a project can lift spirits and light up faces. This inherent gift comes in quite handy in ‘The Man from Toronto’, a new Netflix feature. Without their impression, we wouldn’t have been able to get through the movie.
Oddball pair-ups are a raging thing nowadays. Big producers and studios hunt opportunities to get the stars doubled up and hope the audiences lap it up.
In ‘The Man from Toronto’, Harrelson plays the titular character – a Colonel Kurtz-looking hitman with a legendary reputation. The premise’s driver is when well-meaning hustler Teddy Jackson is at the wrong place at the wrong time and perceived to be TMFT (The Man From Toronto).
Thus begins their doomed and desperate journey together to stop the larger conspiracy that can potentially start another World War, and of self-discovery. Not to mention to save their own lives. It would be amiss to call ‘TMFT’ a film with or even aiming for depth. This aspect of cinema is not completely disregarded in the story but takes secondary importance.
The narrative banks on the performers’ merit, especially Hart, who is central to everything that happens in the film. Teddy Jackson by nature is a crowd favorite – well-intentioned, dumb, and loveable. There is no way the majority of the people who see him won’t root for him.
“Teddyed” is a word everyone around him uses in a degrading sense. Whenever something goes wrong or a mistake is made, this phraseology comes into operation. And we definitely see the man in action make those mistakes. Every step of the way, he acts as an anti-thesis to TMFT. But even the mishaps produce well-choreographed action sequences. Apart from that, there is not a lot of motivation for you to stay on.
Story-wise, there is nothing new that we see in ‘TMFT’. Many components of its plot and characterizations are derivative, at times, to the extent that they do look insulting to your intelligence.
I definitely get what Phillip Hughes wants from his actors and his narrative. He does not have high hopes for it to go in the direction of the dramatic impact that moves you to tears. It is not a strictly “keep your brains at home” film but is from the same lineage.
Hughes focuses on Teddy and The Man From Toronto and the changing dynamics of their relationship. Both men go through a kind of metamorphosis together – learning from each other while getting themselves out of this mess. Woody Harrelson is convincing as the hitman. Mostly dressed in black, he creates an attractive persona that is fitting to help Hughes fill the holes his screenplay carries.
His chemistry with Hart is the only reason it can pass off as a one-time watch. The men are put on a pedestal to become the only subjects that need our attention, while the women stay in the background, used more as props than anything else. It is certainly disappointing to see these rough edges preventing ‘TMFT’ from ever having a chance of being taken seriously. That is the least of the director’s concerns.
Getting laughs out of Teddy is a job that Hart makes easier for Hughes and seems his priority. I had a great time watching the film because I went in with tapered expectations, not asking too much from the cast. Seeing how the story was being set up, I instantly removed my critics’ cap and put on a viewer’s cap. The result is a bit more palatable but only just to eke out one viewing.
Watch ‘The Man from Toronto’ on Netflix only for the glitter of its stars. For those uninitiated with the Hart brand of comedy – self-deprecating, dumb, and personal – this film presents the perfect starter. The close-ended ending seems likely to stunt a sequel – and thankfully so.
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Verdict - 5/10