The Man From Toronto, a Netflix action-comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Kevin Hart, is the kind of movie you forget almost the minute the end credits have rolled, two hours of moderate laughs rolled up in a tissue-thin plot that just barely qualifies as a distraction from the dreariness of life. This isn’t the sort of movie you would, or should, go out of your way to see. But if nothing else, it’s a showcase for one small blessing: the minor modern miracle of Hart’s timing.
Hart plays Teddy, an average guy from a place the movie calls Yorktown, USA, who just can’t get a break. He adores his wife, Lori (Jasmine Mathews). But he’s one of those men who can just never follow through on anything; he always neglects some minor but essential detail. His latest scheme is a fitness regimen he calls no-contact boxing, a discipline that’s heavy on cardio but doesn’t actually involve punching anyone. It’s not such a terrible idea, but Teddy has almost willed himself into failure, and he fears that Lori, as much she loves him, is losing patience.
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For her birthday, he books a getaway weekend in Virginia. But he screws up even that: when he prints out the location of the Airbnb cabin he’s rented, the ink is so faint he can’t read the address. This leads him to the wrong cabin, and causes him to be mistaken for the ill-tempered hitman we’ve already met in the movie’s first scene, the killer-for-hire who goes by the moniker the Man from Toronto (Harrelson). When the FBI bursts onto the scene, Hart stammers his feeble excuse: “It was a low-toner situation.”
What follows is a nearly impossible-to-follow caper in which the two men, adversaries at first, are forced to work together to bring down a Venezuelan baddie who’s trying to sabotage his own country. Harrelson’s character, who strides through the movie in trim black assassin’s gear, is one of those cartoonishly enigmatic loners whose prized possession is a 1969 Dodge Charger. He takes his orders from a handler he’s never met in real life, a mystery woman with an ice-white bob (Ellen Barkin). He adores 19th-century poetry and hopes to leave the hired-killer life to open his own restaurant. He and Teddy have nothing in common, of course. But after they’ve been dangled from airborne planes and shot at by various thugs, they reach an uneasy truce, and almost learn to like one another. Which should hardly come as a surprise.
The action in The Man from Toronto—directed by Patrick Hughes (The Hitman’s Bodyguard and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) and written by Robbie Fox and Charles Bremner, from a story by Jason Blumenthal—is really just an excuse for Hart and Harrelson to spar and banter as they’re getting knocked around. These two actors are seasoned enough to generate some sparks, even if much of the dialogue they’re given to work with is, for lack of a better word, lame. Hart, especially, has a gift for doing the most with the least. When Toronto snarls, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” Hart’s Teddy launches into a nervous soliloquy whose stops and starts constitute a kind of staccato symphony. “Dogs,” he informs Toronto solemnly, “don’t eat dogs. Now, naturally, a dog may sniff another dog’s butt.” He waits a beat. “He may lick some poop—occasionally—but he won’t eat another dog.”
There is absolutely nothing funny about those lines as written. But Hart is something of a stocky comic iron man, a scrappy pro with the ability to twist and bend even the lousiest dialogue into a pretzel shape that can make you laugh despite yourself. Afterward, you may be laughing more at yourself than anything. How does Hart get away with chatter that’s so unequivocally dumb? To dissect his method too clinically would only crush its modest splendor. At least, in The Man from Toronto, he’s a life force that prevents the whole enterprise from being dead on arrival.
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