United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date:
PG-13 (Profanity, Violence)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss, Miguel Ferrer, Susie Essman
Jim Piddock & Margaret Oberman and Steve Carpenter
New Line Cinema
Hollywood has a long albeit checkered history of mismatched buddy cop films. I don't know when the trend started, but it was elevated in popularity by the partnership of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 48 Hours. 23 years later, director Les Mayfield and his trio of screenwriters have taken a page out of the Twins book and forced two of the most unlikely actors together for a cops-and-robbers outing. Those actors are veteran comedian and Christopher Guest regular Eugene Levy, and everyone's favorite intense badass, Samuel L. Jackson. These two generate plenty of chemistry and humor; sadly, the story they are stuck in is a waste of time.
Jackson and Levy play exaggerations of their most commonly recognized screen personas. As dental supply man Andy Fidler, Levy is an uptight, anal motormouth. As Special Agent Derrick Vann, Jackson combines Shaft with Pulp Fiction's Jules, and cranks the volume up to "11." These two play off of each other so marvelously that one wonders why no one considered pairing them up before now. When The Man isn't concerned with moving forward its hackneyed plot, and concentrates instead on developing the relationship between Andy and Derrick, it works - sometimes hilariously.
Unfortunately, cop buddy comedies demand a framework for their antics, and that's where The Man stumbles. The storyline - something about gunrunners mistaking Andy for Derrick, thereby necessitating the salesman to help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms - is paper-thin. I suppose Luke Goss makes a convincing villain, but his is a thankless job. (One could argue that Miguel Ferrer, playing an Internal Affairs cop, should get equal bad guy billing.) I will give Mayfield credit, though. He seems to realize how plodding the cop storyline is, and trims is as much as coherence will allow. The Man clocks in at a slim 1:20, which makes it more bearable than something 30 minutes longer would have been.
From a comedy standpoint, there are a number of standout scenes. It's hard to pick the funniest, but a candidate would be the one where circumstances force Andy to turn the tables and make Derrick "his bitch." The actors carry the scene. One can see how this would have produced grimaces, rather than laughs, with two less experienced thespians. The Man also includes the rare flatulence joke that is side-splitting. The farts aren't funny in themselves, but Jackson's reaction elevates this scene.
I can understand viewers approaching The Man with a sense of trepidation. The genre is tired, with each new entry seeming worse than its predecessor. Les Mayfield isn't a household name, and his resume is littered with abysmal titles (American Outlaws, Flubber, Encino Man). But Levy and Jackson save the day, and the film. The Man isn't great entertainment, but it contains enough laughter-provoking material to make it worth a look - although home video is probably the best bet, since the pointless plot development scenes can then be conveniently fast forwarded through.