For anyone who's never seen a buddy-cop movie before, it's likely that The Man will be a hilarious, rollercoaster experience. But since we've all seen at least a dozen buddy-cop movies in the past five minutes, The Man is just more of the same. The film's best attempt at bringing originality to the genre involves farting, which ought to clue you in on exactly where this review is headed. There's a good chance that fart jokes will some day be one of the signs of the apocalypse, till then, we've got Eugene Levy.
If there’s one really good thing about The Man it’s that it finally gives us Samuel L. Jackson back. The real Samuel L. Jackson, not the tepid, watered-down one we’ve seen stoically playing a potted Jedi plant in Star Wars for the past few years. Sam plays FBI Agent Derrick Vann, and he’s an angry asshole. Angry is Sam’s specialty, and the film starts with Agent Vann unfairly torturing his snitches and yelling at random bystanders. Technically Sam Jackson is just rehashing his greatest hits from other movies, but he puts so much fire and energy into it that even when he revisits his “tasty burger” speech from Pulp Fiction it almost seems fresh.
Agent Vann is hunting a gang of gun runners. Because his methods are so abrasive, he’s also under investigation by Internal Affairs. They’re all up in his grill, but Vann doesn’t care. He just wants to get back out on the streets and bust the heads of some thugs. Vann couldn’t be written less realistically if you tried. The script makes him into a cliché Mel Gibson archetype, only pumped up to a ridiculous level. Because he needs a wacky partner, the film pairs him up with Eugene Levy, a move which smacks of screenwriting by executive committee. The entire film feels like a New Line VP’s wet dream; as if a group of money hungry power brokers sat around and brainstormed star combinations that might make them a lot of money, probably in the same meeting where they came up with Snakes On A Plane (coming in 2006 and not-so-coincidentally also starring Sam Jackson). Personally I think they should have gone with Ben Stein.
Levy plays Andy Fidler, a dental supply salesman in town for a sales conference. The town we’re told is Detroit, though to me it looks a lot like New York City. Andy is a simple, wholesome, aw-shucks, all-American family man from Wisconsin. He’s confused by the big city, and by stupidly contrived accident becomes involved in Vann’s one-man sting operation. Vann needs Andy to solve his case and keep Internal Affairs off his back, so he makes Andy his personal bitch. Thus is their pairing set up. They drive around in Vann’s tricked up car together, with Levy talking incessantly and Vann screaming at him or when the mood strikes him, putting Andy in the trunk. At some point they both end up standing in a pool, Vann unclothed and Andy still in his suit, though we’re never told why. Truthfully, the plot is pretty sporadic (in other words plot happens only when it’s convenient) and anyway that’s not really the point. This is a buddy-cop movie after all.
The film works when it’s being funny, not when it’s solving crime. Sam Jackson whacks people with phonebooks, Sam Jackson yells at people; Sam Jackson revisits his best lines from better films. Sam is so fired up that he makes the movie tolerable almost through sheer force of will. Levy is as usual little help. He’s still pulling the same tired shtick that made him famous nearly a decade ago. The world has since soured on him, probably about the time he tried it in a movie opposite the Olsen Twins. It doesn’t matter, you could have stuck anyone next to Sam and the movie would have come out the same. The Man is a terrible, derivative, knockoff of a film but Sam delivers so many genuine laughs that the thing is less than painful. No matter how many bad movies the man does, no matter how much time he wastes as filler for George Lucas’ CGI backgrounds, there’s no denying his talent. Forgettable, flaccid, and contrived though it may be, The Man does a nice job of simulating what might be considered an enjoyable film. Blame Samuel L. Jackson.