Directed by: Les Mayfield
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss
If it weren’t for Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy, The Man would barely be watchable.
Jackson plays Derrick Vann, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who is being investigated by Internal Affairs after his corrupt partner is found dead. Vann’s partner was the inside man on a theft of guns in the ATF vaults, and the feds think Vann was also in on it. He has 24 hours to bust the real thieves before the guns are shipped out of town.
When Vann sets up a meeting, an innocent man is mistaken for him and becomes integral to arresting the gun dealers. The innocent man, Andy Fidler (Levy), is a Wisconsin dental supplies salesman; he’s in Detroit for a sales conference and was simply sitting in a diner reading the paper. Vann decides to use Fidler in his investigation, but he soon finds the extremely talkative and reluctant salesman may be more trouble than he’s worth.
Everything surrounding the interplay between Jackson and Levy serves as background. None of it really develops and much is clichéd, but the chemistry between the two stars is golden.
What makes the pairing work is that Jackson plays it entirely straight. This isn’t a carefree, comedic Jackson; this is Sam “BMF” Jackson. He never breaks from his intensity to try to be funny, which allows Levy to ham it up all he wants.
In fact, the film is a serious police drama at its core, except for Andy Fidler. He’s the wild card that turns normally serious scenes into comedic gems — at times, at least. However, you’re more likely to think to yourself that something is funny rather than actually laugh.
The real gut-busting scene takes aim at Jackson’s trademark tough, foul-mouthed characters: Fidler lectures Vann on how he needs to be nicer and swear less. He proceeds to tell him that if he says “Crying out loud” after every f-bomb he’ll soon train himself to just say “For crying out loud,” which is nicer for everyone.
In another winning scene, Fidler realizes he is essential to the investigation and decides to ensure things are done his way. This culminates in Fidler introducing Vann as his bitch to the gun dealers.
Unfortunately, The Man isn’t all win-win. The film really goes off track when Fidler tries to reform Vann to his way of thinking. Vann doesn’t trust anyone and is mostly a mean, solitary guy, but Fidler decides he needs to be more like him: warm and friendly. This involves making sure Vann attends his daughter’s ballet recital. While it is a touching moment, it stops the momentum of the film. Excising it in favour of more Levy/Jackson interplay would have been a wiser choice.
Scenes involving fart jokes also slow things down, as they seem out of place and a bit too lowbrow for the film. The humour may not be the best, but it’s certainly better than gas gags.
The Man is only worth watching because of the juxtaposition between Jackson’s hardass cop and Levy’s annoying nice guy. Both actors do what they do best, and it’s entertaining to see them played against one another.
Let’s just hope the film doesn’t do too well or we may have to deal with The Man 2.