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Samuel L. Jackson……….Special Agent Derrick Vann
Eugene Levy……….Andy Fidler
Mixing and matching two unlikely people in an action comedy happens at least once a year. To do it well is hard; to do it right requires the right combination. The few buddy movies that have been done well remain as the standards by which the genre is judged by as Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 48 Hrs and Red Heat (amongst others) stand out as the best of a weak genre that features such classics as Tango & Cash, Money Talks, National Security and Bad Boys II. And into the low standards of the buddy action comedy comes The Man, the latest entry into the field.
This entry’s mismatched partners come in the form of a mildly annoying dental supply salesman (Eugene Levy as Andy Fidler) and a rough, tough police officer who plays by his own rules (Samuel L. Jackson as Special Agent Derrick Vann). When the former is mistaken for the latter by some unsavory types looking to sell some stolen guns, it’s a whacky adventure between two mismatched characters that is strong on chemistry and action but fails due to some excess baggage tucked in that translates into a solid action comedy.
The selling points of every buddy comedy are the two stars, and Jackson & Levy are remarkably solid in their roles. While neither character is breaking fresh ground, they are playful spoofs of the characters they normally are saddled with. Jackson takes parts of Shaft from the movie of the same name, meshes them with Jules from Pulp Fiction and spits out a foul-mouthed, abusive police officer with a heart of gold. Levy takes the dorkier aspects of the characters he’s traditionally played, meshes them with the father figure from the American Pie series, and spits out a sweet annoying salesman trying to figure out the rules of a game he doesn’t want to play.
The characters mesh productively as well; Levy and Jackson are solid actors who never cease to bring a level of professionalism to a movie, regardless of quality, and their interactions are generally funny. Jackson produces some of the film’s finer moments in just reacting to the situation; the material they are working with is pretty awful but they manage to turn out some comedic gems in spite of it all. Jackson seems to have a sense that he knows he’s working with inferior material and tries to get the most out of it; certain low-brow sequences that could’ve been painful to watch turn out to be genuinely funny because of Jackson.
But Jackson & Levy are saddled with several subplots that detract from the focus of The Man. Vann is given an ex-wife and child, with Vann being too busy trying to be an office of the law to be a good father. The details are generic enough, and it adds some depth to his character, the subplot derails the movie quite effectively enough that The Man can’t recover in time. While it runs less than 75 minutes, devoting the sort of time for this is unnecessary at best and campy at worst.