The Man from Toronto premieres on June 24 exclusively on Netflix.
Director Patrick Hughes continues to expand his hitman-centered body of work, following up on his The Hitman’s Bodyguard films with Netflix’s The Man from Toronto. Woody Harrelson is the deadly hitman and Kevin Hart is a small-town dope who accidentally creates a scenario that gets him confused as the assassin. Forced to share space, the two go from enemies to somewhat allies in a farcical adventure that offers some laughs and a couple creative action sequences. It never reaches the heights of other films in this genre, like Midnight Run or The Rundown, but it’s a fun summer watch.
Starting with a strong prologue, Teddy Jackson (Hart) talks into the camera, making videos for his non-existent fitness followers as he tries to sell his signature workout techniques like Teddy Burn, Teddy Bar, and Teddy Bands, all of which get him injured. Concurrently in Utah, a lone figure who goes by Toronto (Harrelson) dressed in black arrives at a cabin to perform an interrogation for hire. He lays out his knives and tells the terrified guy tied up on a chair the bleak tale of how he watched his grandfather get filledeted by a bear and what he learned from it. His mark spills the beans before Harrelson even has to spill his blood and that nicely sets up the competency disparities between Teddy and the Man from Toronto.
As Teddy is a mess professionally and personally, he at least wants to make his wife Lori’s (Jasmine Mathews) birthday a success so he rents a cabin in Virginia to give her a special weekend. He drops her off for a spa day to set up the rental but realizes he can’t quite read the address on his print out because he didn’t change the printer toner, so he bumbles his way into the wrong cabin that is actually the setting for the Man from Toronto’s next interrogation. The mistaken identity sets the stage for a huge blunder that involves the FBI needing Teddy to act like he’s Toronto to help stop an international incident. Meanwhile, the real assassin is pissed that he lost a high-paying gig, through no fault of his own, and seeks to acquire Teddy so he can finish the job right and get the payday. What ensues is Teddy and Toronto having to help one another so Teddy can get home to his wife and Toronto can get his last big payday and get out of the business.
Comedically, the movie gives audiences who appreciate Hart everything they love about the comedian. There’s the self-deprecating height jokes, the nervous, rapid-fire rants, and 10 out of 10 reactions to his impending bodily harm. Hughes also gives Hart plenty of real estate to riff his way through several interrogation scenes that earn some big laughs, and even some dry heaves due to Teddy’s reaction to some actual violence. Those scenarios do get a little repetitive by the midpoint of the film, and could have used some surgical editing to tighten up the pace, which does drag.
On the other hand, it’s nice to see Harrelson back in a pure action role where he gets to do a lot of physical fighting that he sells with enthusiasm and nimbleness. He’s also a great straight man to Hart’s antics. There’s always a glimmer of fun in his eyes as his character tolerates the inadequacies that make up Teddy, which helps melt the ice between the two men by the second act. As the two quasi-bond over the long-held fears that motivate them, the testosterone-heavy film gets to downshift into some softness and character work, which gives a little depth to the insanity going on around them.
On the whole, this is a showcase for Hart and Harrelson, so the supporting cast and the women don’t get as much to do. Ellen Barkin gives a typically spitfire performance as Toronto’s handler as he grows annoyed as the mission devolves. But her character is one-note in terms of her relationship with Toronto and her eventual trajectory. Mathews does long-suffering well as Teddy’s wife, but she basically only reacts to his idiocy with compassion. And then Kaley Cuoco shows up in a cameo as Lori’s friend – and to flirt with Toronto. Hers is a role that feels like most of it must have ended up on the cutting room floor as she’s way too big a name, and a comedic talent, to be relegated to a part this small. However, Pierson Fode does a lot with the little he’s given as The Man from Miami, a competing assassin with a sadistic streak and the fortitude of the Terminator.
All of Teddy’s mess culminates in an action sequence that leaves Teddy and Toronto using every trick in the book to survive. Hughes really gets creative with his use of hand-held and Steadicams to capture the melee in large chunks that put Hart and Harrelson through their paces. From room to room, it’s a cacophony of weapons, hand-to-hand combat, and every day props that create dizzying moments of choreography and destruction. In reality, Hart’s Teddy would be broken into 10 pieces after the first time he’s flung into a wall. But, that’s where suspension of disbelief comes in handy because there’s a lot of humor watching the way the petite guy gets manhandled like he’s in a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon.
The Man from Toronto ends on a tidy note, with an actual, close-ended conclusion, which is nice to see and feels like a rarity these days. Sure, there’s not a lot of consequences for the unholy havok they create, but logic and consequences are for other movies. For this one, it’s fine to just eat your microwave popcorn and get some mindless summer blockbuster fun right from your couch.