2 out of 5 stars

Few actors have leaned into the action-comedy genre like Kevin Hart. Over the years he’s established himself as a strong contributor to the buddy duo; specifically, the comedic half out of their element who grows increasingly overwhelmed by the surrounding chaos. Movies like Central Intelligence (2016), and Ride Along (2014) let Hart be himself and chew the scenery—which is something he and many of his fans enjoy. However, these types of roles have added up over the years, making recent efforts repetitive and expected. In his latest film, The Man from Toronto, Hart is now paired with Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers), and despite a new straight-man to play his opposite, the movie falls flat because of familiar dynamics and a predictable plot. 

Teddy (Hart) is a low-level trainer at a gym, struggling to advance professionally despite groundbreaking ideas like a non-contact boxing workout. He’s supported by his bread-winning wife Lori (Jasmine Matthews), whose own co-workers at her firm have decided to use “Teddy” as slang for screwing up. In an attempt to show his appreciation for his wife, Teddy plans a surprise getaway for Lori’s birthday, renting a cabin in a small town in Virginia. 

Little does he know, but ‘The Man from Toronto’ (Harrelson) is also on his way to the same place to carry out his business as the world’s deadliest assassin; a man whose reputation for brutality is well-known among goons worldwide. Whenever ‘The Handler’ (Ellen Barkin) calls on him with a job, he relies on his brutal interrogation techniques to get the information he needs. 

When lovable oaf Teddy ends up at the wrong cabin, he’s mistaken for Toronto and finds himself faking his way through the encounter, fearing for his life all the while. With Toronto observing the scene, the cabin is swarmed by the FBI, who take Teddy into custody and force him to pose as Toronto to obtain more information. They explain Toronto’s mission involves an exiled Venezuelan Colonel who’s planning an assassination of the Venezuelan President. When Teddy meets with the colonel’s wife (Lela Loren), he’s ushered onto a cargo plane headed for Puerto Rico, where Toronto sneaks aboard and takes out the colonel’s men. Toronto confronts Teddy and decides to enlist his services to carry out the rest of his mission, to the dismay of The Handler. And from there, the nature of the mission slowly unravels while Teddy remains focused on getting back stateside for his wife’s birthday dinner. 

Patrick Hughes is no stranger to the action-comedy genre, having directed The Expendables 3 (2014) and The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017), and The Man From Toronto demonstrates his commitment to formula. Teddy and Toronto are seemingly polar opposites, but the more time they spend together the more similarities they find. Toronto claims Teddy isn’t willing to take risks, even though Toronto’s afraid to pursue his dream job (spoiler; it does not involve being a hitman). Moreso, while Teddy’s professional life is underwhelming compared to the assassin’s, Toronto needs to be coached by Teddy in social situations because of how bad he is with people. Surely enough, they come to understand and respect each other over their day-long journey together. From the beginning, it’s clear how their relationship will evolve, as well as where and when the turns will come. 

That includes the emotional trajectory of the film, which tries to be everything all at once. For a movie built around Hart’s charm and action sequences, there are too many earnest scenes of Teddy reflecting on his relational shortcomings. Hart is best suited to the goofy, self-deprecating, chaotic moments—like when he’s thrust into the middle of a shootout, and escapes unscathed, despite his buffoonery. While there are moments in his wheelhouse, there are also scenes where Teddy is giving romantic pleas and fighting to save his marriage. The film would have been better off if that unnecessary sentimentality had been scaled back and The Man from Toronto could instead focus on the fun and outlandish stuff.

However, even that likely wouldn’t save the movie. Hart and Harrelson were surely brought in to carry The Man from Toronto along, but the actors are fighting an uphill battle. A lot of the jokes feel worn and half-baked. Hart plays Teddy as a bumbling character who flukily stays alive, often when having to stand in for Toronto… and when Toronto meets Teddy’s wife’s old friend Anne (Kayley Cuoco) his stone-cold demeanour evades him after a few moments of dancing. Hart and Harrelson do what they can with it, but it’s difficult for comedic actors to breathe life into humourless and one-dimensional characters.

Hart has played this type of character many times before and aims to get laughs the way he always has. Teddy is always confused, talking himself around in circles, and running for cover once bullets start to fly. Hart leans into it well, but the jokes—whether scripted or improvised—land only a few giggles at best. Early on, Teddy simultaneously pretends to intimidate the hostage, while whispering to the same hostage about how confused he is about the situation. Hart’s performance is consistent, but only for how Teddy feels like a carbon copy of every other character he’s played before.

Even Harrelson’s secret, softy hidden beneath a tough exterior, feels like a hollow shell of his Zombieland (2009) character. There’s a lukewarm attempt to develop Toronto’s backstory, but it completely misses the mark because of how flippantly it’s handled. In those moments, Harrelson does his best to be vulnerable, but that feeling doesn’t come through, and it shouldn’t have to. The Man From Toronto isn’t built to tug at the heartstrings, so why even try? The result is an actor of Harrelson’s calibre stepping into a role that wastes his talents, instead of utilising them.    

There’s not much else to be said about The Man from Toronto. It’s bland action-comedy with few laughs, plenty of lulls, and underwhelming characters. Harrelson and Hart aren’t enough to elevate the material above the ordinary.

USA | 2022 | 114 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Patrick Hughes.
writers: Robbie Fox & Chris Bremner (story by Robbie Fox & Jason Blumenthal).
starring: Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Kaley Cuoco, Jasmine Matthews, Lela Loren, Pierson Fodé, Jencarlos Canela & Ellen Barkin.