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Teddy (Kevin Hart), the protagonist of Netflix’s “The Man From Toronto,” is an irritating, motormouthed, underachieving idiot. Anyone who can spend more than ten minutes with him deserves a medal for patience. Director Patrick Hughes’ latest is both 112 minutes, and a hodgepodge of so many other movies that it becomes the most obnoxious of cinematic collages. The signposts on this journey include the darkly comic hitman thriller, the goofy loser trying to prove himself underdog flick, the stand-up comedian vanity project, the mistaken identity plot and the violent actioner. It’s the kind of venture that only strengthens my conspiracy theory that many Netflix films are created solely to be played in the background while viewers fold laundry or vacuum the cat hair off their IKEA furniture. You could walk away from this movie every ten minutes and not miss anything when you returned.
Baldheaded Woody Harrelson plays the titular Torontonian, a very effective hitman whose vicious reputation for torturing precedes him. We see him plying his trade in an early scene. Hired to extract information by any means necessary, The Man From Toronto (as he is credited) displays an impressive array of cutlery in front of his prey before monologuing his origin story. See, when he was a young boy being raised “on a frozen lake 500 miles from nowhere,” his grandfather was suddenly attacked by a grizzly bear. The bear made mincemeat of Grandpa while his grandson watched from afar. Pleading for mercy once the torture begins will have no effect; any empathy the hitman had died on that frozen lake. The story works—the guy confesses and is granted a much quicker death than his silence would have bought.
The Man From Toronto takes orders from a woman his phone refers to as the “Handler.” The film initially plays coy with her identity, but her distinctive voice immediately identifies the actor who plays her. The Handler (as she is credited) has men in other locations: Miami, Tokyo, Moscow, and so on. She’ll eventually call on them when she thinks her man in Toronto has gone rogue. These guys have massive egos and apparently live in the shadow of their Canadian co-worker. The Miami guy (Pierson Fode), first seen beating a man to death with a golf club, seems to have a pre-existing beef that keeps him turning up every so often like a bad penny.
So much for the darkly comic hitman thriller plot element. The underachiever story comes from Teddy. He is such a screwup that his patient, loving wife, Lori (Jasmine Mathews) tells him her firm uses his name to describe when someone botches something. “You’re a verb!” she says with glee. We see her husband repeatedly “teddying” in the sequence of YouTube workout videos that open “The Man From Toronto.” At least Hart is diesel enough to pull off playing a guy advertising weight training items like the “TeddyBand” (which pops and slaps him in the face) and the “TeddyBar,” a pull-up rack whose workout consists of its user being accidentally crushed under the falling equipment.
Teddy’s latest pitch is to his boxing ring boss, Marty, who has kept him on despite the fact the marketing brochures Teddy made don’t mention the address of the gym. Lori thinks her man’s latest idea has merit, which makes me question her common sense. Teddy wants to promote “no-contact” boxing, a cardio workout where people throw punches but no one gets hit. Back in my amateur training days, we called it “shadow boxing,” but what do I know? I’m an old man and woefully out of touch with the ideas of today’s young whippersnappers. Marty is also old—he thinks it’s the dumbest idea he’s ever heard.
Teddy is so incompetent he can’t even do a simple task like planning a special evening for his wife’s birthday. Of course, the high stakes on his current attempt will be made even higher. This brings us to the mistaken identity plot. Thanks to “low toner” in his printer, Teddy misidentifies the address of the cabin he has rented for Lori’s birthday excursion. People say “low toner” so many times in “The Man from Toronto” that a drinking game could be based on it. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mistake leads him to the one cabin in Onancock, Virginia that contains someone The Man From Toronto was supposed to torture. The guys think they hired Teddy. All Hell breaks loose, as expected, when the real deal shows up.
You know what happens next. Through tenets of Roger Ebert’s Idiot Plot theory, TMFT is stuck with Teddy as he maneuvers his way through the hitman story. For reasons I don’t have enough word count to explain, the FBI is also pressuring Teddy to put himself in harm’s way. Meanwhile, the FBI is keeping Lori busy by having her dragged on shopping sprees and spa visits by a sexy male agent she believes is acting on Teddy’s behalf. None of this is remotely believable because the screenplay by Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner consistently has Teddy saying and doing things that no one in his position would be dumb enough to do. Hart is a master of talking his way out of situations, so this should have yielded comic benefits. But not even his stand-up skills can make this dialogue work.
All this leads to the violent actioner section, where Hughes does that godawful speeding up technique that makes following everything virtually impossible. Along the way, Teddy and the Man from Toronto bond in macho yet sensitive fashion while the person who ordered this on Netflix discovers a hairball too big to vacuum up. You know a film’s in trouble when it can’t be saved by a rocket launcher-toting Ellen Barkin. Looking as great and powerful as ever, Barkin lays waste to numerous cars, incinerating them in impressive Joel Silver-worthy fireballs. Too bad she couldn’t have aimed that thing at this movie.
On Netflix today.