Hollywood is home to a lot of mysteries and unanswered questions. Questions like how the hell did the Police Academy series run so long? Sure, I remember loving the movies as a kid, but looking at the films with adult eyes thanks to Comedy Central's insistance of showing Police Academy 3 every two weeks, I wonder what the hell I saw in them. Another good question is brought about by The Man, the new action comedy that, judging by its opening weekend gross, won't be around by the end of September. And that question is how the hell is director Les Mayfield still working in Hollywood? Mayfield, after all, is the guy who gave Pauly Shore his big movie break with 1992's Encino Man. Surely with that kind of skeleton in his closet (and the fact that the man's only true semi-successful movie besides that was the annoying Flubber movie with Robin Williams), studio execs must kind of roll their eyes when his name is mentioned.
Thanks to a very cushy deal with the Prince of Darkness (at least, that's what I'm assuming), Mr. Mayfield is back with yet another flop. Apparently the makers of this film were too busy doing something else when they noticed audiences staying away in droves when the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah action comedy, Taxi, came and left theaters right about this same time last year. If they had been paying attention, they'd know they had basically made almost the exact same kind of movie, and the exact same kind of mistakes. The Man reeks of corporate despiration ("We need a movie to fill in this month, 'cause we've got nothing, so how about a buddy movie with a mismatched couple?") and also reeks of old age. The fact that at one point one of the characters makes a reference to the Spice Girls sets up a red alert that this script has been sitting on somebody's shelf since about 1998 or so. Like a lot of movies I've been forcing myself to sit through lately, this film has no place being on the big screen.
Okay, so our comically mismatched couple this time around is Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) and Andy Fiddler (Eugene Levy). Derrick is a tough, edgy big city Federal Agent who swears a lot, hates everybody, and likes to physically and verbally abuse everyone he comes in contact with. Andy is a mousey, nerdy dental supply salesman from the Wisconsin suburbs who's in town for a dental convention. Oh, the wackiness this combination could create! The mind simply races with the various ways that a sadistically violent enforcer of the law and a meek salesman could create a recipee for zaniness!!
Unfortunately, the film is not interested in its characters, simply in its overstuffed plot that it keeps on forcing upon us, instead of making us like the characters we're supposed to be rooting for. Vann's partner was killed recently by a group of gun-runners that have just stollen a load of illegal weapons, and are looking for buyers. Vann tries to go undercover as a buyer, but his efforts are foiled when the clueless Andy takes the seat at the local cafe where Vann was supposed to be sitting to pick up the gun and make the deal. The villain (played by Luke Goss from Blade II) mistakes Andy as the potential buyer for the weapons, and drops off a gun and a cell phone. Andy is forced to get involved in the case, as everyone believes him to be a master criminal, because he has a warrant unfulfilled due to an accident that happened when he visited Turkey on his vacation with his family. It's non-stop pointless action sequences, yelling, screaming, and obnoxious one-liners from then on as Mr. Mayfield desperately tries to fill his brief 80-minute running time, pretending that there's a point to all of this.
In order for a film like The Man to work, we need to like the mismatched couple, and want them to put aside their differences. After all, it was the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the original Lethal Weapon film that made it the modern day blueprint for the genre. Unfortunately, both of our heroes in this movie are so unlikable that you really just want to see them kill each other in a bloody Battle Royale. And by bloody Battle Royale, I mean I want to see these characters end their lives both impaled on a bed of spikes, while their eyes are torn out by escaped mental patients, who then proceed to peel off their skin like wrapping paper, and make confetti out of their insides. I'm not a man prone to violence, but believe me, if it meant having to spend less time with Jackson and Levy, I'd stage a damn genocide.
Jackson is supposedly portraying Vann as a tough cop on the edge who doesn't take crap from anybody. To me, however, he came across as a sadistic, foul-mouthed creep who enjoyed torturing the people he questioned a bit too much. He chases a suspect down with his car, then drives alongside the person, holding onto the back of the suspect's shirt, and forces them to run face first into a telephone pole. Later in the movie, he questions the same suspect by ramming the guy up against a fence with his car, and forcefully grinding his body up and down the fence, laughing. He also repeatedly beats his suspects viciously with anything handy, going so far as to knock out teeth and induce bleeding. The fact that the filmmakers expected me to laugh at Jackson brutally torturing his suspects, and even locking Levy's character in the trunk of his car when he pisses him off, made me wonder just what kind of psychos wrote this script. What's even more appalling is that the movie tries to soften him by giving him an ex-wife and a daughter that he still loves. In fact, one plot point of the movie is that Jackson's character has to make it to his little girl's ballet recital on time!! Of course, his former family is so underdeveloped and disappear as soon as the recital is over that this seems to be more of a last minute desperate attempt to make Vann more likable. In truth, it only made him more disturbing. Given his violent mood swings portrayed throughout the film, I say his ex-wife had the right idea leaving him.
Levy's character isn't anywhere near as detestable, but is still about as pleasant as being forced to watch a production of Hamlet starring David Hasselhoff and Bob Goldthwait. Levy plays up the obnoxious aspects of his character, and expects to get laughs out of it. Unfortunately, he lays on the annoyance level too thick, and just simply comes across as unlikable. His motor mouth delivery gets old in about 5 minutes, and he's so mind-bogglingly stupid that you just want to perform a mercy killing. Oh, and did I mention that he has a running gag about a flatulance problem? That's right, this movie's got a psycho Federal Agent with violent mood swings teamed up with an obnoxious twerp whose sole running gag is that he farts violently and repeatedly after eating! Why oh why are people staying away from this movie with a star combination like that??
Jackson and Levy are the core of the film's problem, but far from the the least of the worries for anyone who buys a ticket for this clunker. How about an uninspired screenplay that throws in so many plots that its almost hard to keep track of them all, not the least because they're so underdeveloped to the point of non-existence. Not enough? Throw in some lame one-liners and physical humor that ranges from flat to downright abusive to your brain. But wait, buy your ticket to The Man, and you'll get all of this, plus supporting characters who merely seem to be an afterthought on the part of the writers. 'Cause, you know, with lead characters as likable as Vann and Andy, you don't want your audience to forget about them.
What's saddest of all about The Man is that I actually think they were making an effort with this movie. Judging by inverviews with both Levy and Jackson, they concentrated on their relationships, and talked about how they should play off on each other. ("Okay, I'll swear a lot and shoot people, and you fart". "Brilliant"!) If this is true, zero of that chemistry or research shows up in the final product. And since The Man is all about these characters, it falls flat on its face almost from the moment these characters are introduced. The Man is far from the worst movie I've seen this year, but it is easily one of the more unlikable ones. And when your competition concerns a woman with a male sexual organ attached to her face, that's really saying something.
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