Director Patrick Hughes hit it big with 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and he’s since doubled down on that success’s template, first with its 2021 follow-up Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and now with The Man from Toronto, another action comedy that pairs Black and white protagonists in a wild and violent misadventure involving professional assassins. In this instance, that duo is Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson, who find themselves embroiled in murderous international espionage thanks to the sort of mistaken-identity mishap that would feel right at home in an episode of Three’s Company. Factor in Hart’s usual little-man schtick, and what you get is precisely the sort of second-rate big-studio feature (from, in this case, Sony) that now gets unceremoniously sold to—and dumped on—Netflix.
In a scenario that recalls Central Intelligence, his 2016 team-up with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hart is Teddy Jackson, a salesman for a local gym who’s constantly trying—and failing—to launch his own line of unique self-branded exercise devices, be it Teddy Band (a resistance band that smacks him in the face), Teddy Burn (a garbage bag-ish sweatsuit that makes him pass out), or Teddy Bar (a pull-up bar that collapses when used). Teddy’s amateur online videos confirm that he’s a failure, and that impression is solidified when his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews) informs him that her law firm’s term for screwing up is “Teddy’d.” Given that his boss also considers him incompetent, Teddy proves a trademark Hart character: a whiny, wimpy loser without the confidence and toughness to succeed. In other words, he's a “wuss” who needs to learn how to be a man.
Hart’s big-screen comedies frequently revolve around such masculinity issues, and here, they’re thrown into sharp relief by Teddy’s decision to wow Lori by taking her to a Virginia cabin and spa retreat for her birthday. That plan goes haywire from the get-go, since Teddy fails to replenish the toner in his home printer and, consequently, can’t read the proper address for their lodge on his print-out. Instead, the cabin he visits turns out to be populated by two menacing bruisers who are overseeing the torture of a captive. These menacing individuals think that Teddy is The Man from Toronto, a famed hitman whose reputation is so great that they’re eager to watch him work his gruesome magic. Teddy is, of course, horrified by this turn of events. Yet fearing that he’ll be killed if he doesn’t do what they expect of him, he blusters his way into getting the intel they covet, at which point the FBI shows up and kills the bad guys and abducts Teddy.
The feds know that Teddy is just a nobody, but since The Man from Toronto’s client—an ousted Venezuelan colonel—now believes that Teddy is his hired gun, they enlist him to perpetuate this ruse long enough to foil a forthcoming scheme to blow up the Venezuelan embassy. All this plot, however, is so much MacGuffin-ish nonsense, designed to keep things moving from one absurdist set piece to another. Moreover, the narrative’s particulars are mere window-dressing for Hart’s man-child complaining and floundering, as well as his contentious bickering with the genuine Man from Toronto, played by Woody Harrelson as a menacing master of his homicidal trade. The Man from Toronto has a kitchen full of weapons and cash, a fondness for 19th-century American poetry, a sweet 1969 Dodge Charger and an origin story involving his grandfather and a hungry bear (the latter of which is tattooed across his back), and he doesn’t take kindly to Teddy impersonating him—a situation that lands them in an unlikely partnership.
Toronto is gruff and assured, Teddy is mouthy and cowardly, and their banter is the entire reason for The Man from Toronto to exist. Unfortunately, Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner’s script doesn’t come up with a single funny line—nor do Hart and Harrelson, even though the former riffs away in search of a choice tangent. The most notable of those features Toronto referring to John Keats with a male pronoun and Teddy responding with, “He may not identify as a He anymore. It’s all about being gender neutral. Obviously you didn’t get the message. What’s your deal? You don’t know who you’re offending…You owe a gender-neutral apology right now.” It’s not clear if this is the star’s attempt to atone for his past homophobic jokes (his refusal to apologize for them got him booted from his 2019 Oscar-hosting gig), or a rebuke to those who censured him, but it’s about as leaden as the rest of the material, which never gets past the central idea of having Toronto help Teddy become more macho, and Teddy teach Toronto to mellow out.
There are a few subplots strewn throughout The Man from Toronto, including Lori being cared for by a hunky FBI handler while her husband is away on world-saving business (much to insecure Teddy’s chagrin), and Lori’s friend Anne (Kaley Cuoco) having the instantaneous hots for Toronto. It’s difficult to imagine why Cuoco accepted a thankless supporting part in a by-the-books affair like this, but then, it’s hard to fathom why anyone wanted to be a part of this hackneyed programmer. Ellen Barkin appears sporadically as Toronto’s mysterious and dastardly handler, and Toronto and Teddy are forced to contend with a rival assassin—Pierson Fode’s The Man from Miami—while simultaneously developing a bond that benefits them both. Still, although those things happen, they’re not of any consequence, leaving the impression that the film will be best suited for sleepy Sunday afternoon viewings when one can doze through portions of the proceedings and not miss a thing.
Resting a project such as this on the shoulders of two well-liked headliners is, in and of itself, a reasonable strategy. Hughes, however, isn’t adept at staging rat-a-tat-tat comedic exchanges or CGI-enhanced mayhem, and both of those shortcomings are apparent in The Man from Toronto, whose wit is DOA and whose action is at once elaborately orchestrated and completely devoid of novelty. It’s not offensive so much as mind-numbing—a photocopy of a photocopy of legions of better movies.