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"THE MAN"
(2005) (Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After being mistaken for an arms buyer, a dental supply salesman must put up with the testy ATF agent who employs him in his quest to catch the bad guys.
PLOT:
Andy Fiddler (EUGENE LEVY) is an unassuming dental supply salesman who's headed to Detroit where he's to make a big presentation in front of a convention crowd. Unfortunately for him, he's about to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Little does he know that testy ATF agent Derrick Vann (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) is trying to solve the theft of government weaponry that led to his partner's death. He has the support of his boss, Rita Carbone (SUSIE ESSMAN), but not Agent Peters (MIGUEL FERRER) of Internal Affairs who thinks the agent is as dirty as his dead partner.

Hoping to catch gun smuggling villain Joey Trent (LUKE GOSS), Vann sets up a sting operation, but Andy unwittingly ends up in the middle of it. Accordingly, both Trent and Vann think he's really there to buy the guns. Beating info out of street hustler and part-time snitch Booty (ANTHONY MACKIE), Vann then sets out to use Andy to catch the villains, unaware that the salesman is about to irritate the living daylights out of him.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath on the people in the South, there have been stories -- true or not -- that some of those in the world of filmmaking are trying to set up a movie screening for evacuees who are now housed in the Houston Astrodome. It's a great idea -- providing a little respite and, in this case, potential comedy for those affected by the storm and flooding -- but then I heard that the film being considered is "The Man." To which all I can say is, "Haven't these people suffered enough?"

And considering all of the racial brouhaha that's risen from this incident, I'm sure in some circles there's renewed talk of being put down by "the man" -- meaning the white, elitist government toward certain poor minority groups. That's a concept that's been around for a long time, but- and notwithstanding the current situation and certainly not intending to make light of it in any way -- I'd argue that "the man" has a brother or cousin whose job is to put down good filmmaking and instead release dreck like this film.

With nary an original element to its credit, this purported comedy offers a few scant chuckles, but otherwise is a lame, unimaginative and certainly not-as-hilarious-as-intended picture that can't help but remind viewers of far superior offerings of its ilk such as "48 Hours." That was the action-comedy where a gruff, no-nonsense cop played by Nick Nolte reluctantly pairs off with a chatterbox sort of fellow -- Eddie Murphy, whose sole purpose is to irritate the cop and thus generate the laughs -- to catch some ruthless criminals.

Plenty of other such films and similar mismatched pairings have come and gone since that 1982 offering, thus making one wonder why the world of movies -- and the planet in general -- needed yet another, and a lame one at that? As directed by Les Mayfield ("American Outlaws," "Blue Streak") from a script by Jim Piddock & Margaret Oberman ("One Good Turn," "Traces of Red") and Steve Carpenter ("Soul Survivors," "Blue Streak"), the film throws Eugene Levy ("A Mighty Wind," the "American Pie" films), Samuel L. Jackson ("Coach Carter," "Pulp Fiction") and their standard character archetypes together in hopes that hilarity will ensue. Alas, that's not remotely the case as both actors -- who can be quite good when the material is on the money -- simply play up and off their one-note character attributes.

While even that could have been moderately entertaining if handled just right, the banal to bad script doesn't even take the time or make the effort to have fun with those characteristics beyond what can only be deemed bland and predictable at best. As a result, no one will likely be surprised by Levy's character annoying Jackson's nonstop before finally stepping up to the occasion of dealing with the criminals in a faux bravado fashion, while the testy cop will eventually soften a bit, all while taking care of business.

Apparently realizing that Andy Fiddler's occupation of being a dental supplies salesman isn't funny and then proving that they couldn't even do anything interesting, clever or imaginative with that setup, the filmmakers have resorted to the old comedy standby -- fart jokes.

Yes, we're treated to gastrointestinal rumblings and subsequent audible passing of gas and related reactions not once, but twice in the film (not to mention a brief peeing in the pool "joke"). This isn't a kids film or an outrageous, gross-out comedy, so I'm not sure why they felt inclined to include that here -- notwithstanding the aforementioned observation -- but it's painful watching these two actors having to play with and off that sort of material (especially when it's as equally unimaginative as the rest of the "humor").

The film is also stuck in that limbo known as being a PG-13 rated action-comedy hybrid. It obviously wants to be more aggressive and hard-hitting like "48 Hours," but has to hold back to avoid the R-rating. At the same time, it's a bit too harsh (with the murders, etc.) to be family friendly, meaning it's both too much and not enough.

Beyond Jackson and Levy pretty much being wasted in their unimaginative roles, Luke Goss is cast as the villain (and plays him like a Jason Statham wannabe), Miguel Ferrer as an internal affairs agent, Susie Essman as Jackson's boss and Rachael Crawford as his ex-wife, but none amount to much of anything in their various storylines and/or subplots.

Although it's not the worst thing you'll see all year -- mainly because Levy does manage to generate a few random laughs -- it's certainly an unnecessary and unsuccessful entry in the mismatched buddy, action-comedy genre. In the end, the best "The Man" can do is prove that "he" (and/or his family relative) is only competent at delivering a flat, boring and awfully familiar offering. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed September 6, 2005 / Posted September 9, 2005


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