The Man (review)
Picture the scene. A police interrogation room. The lighting is harsh. The chairs are hard. Miguel Ferrer is the badass internal affairs guy. Samuel L. Jackson is the rogue ATF agent who breaks rules but gets the job done. Ferrer thinks Jackson is dirty, is riding him hard, is gonna bring him down, dammit! Jackson goes nuclear in Ferrer’s face — he ain’t gonna take this shit no more!
This is how The Man opens, and it’s heartbreaking. You see, Ferrer and Jackson treat this like it’s important, like it matters. Like the dedicated professionals that they both are, they give it their all. Not in a scenery-chewing, hammy, over-the-top way, no — with the serious commitment and integrity that real professionals bring to their work. Imagine the desperate self-delusion in which they had to engage in order to do such a thing without self-imploding out of sheer frustration. Imagine how hard it must have been to convince themselves that The Man was somehow worthy of their commitment and integrity, that it was a work of even low Hollywood art instead of the brutally nonsensical, disgusting shameless example of pandering to the basest instincts of the moviegoing public that it is.
One imagines that perhaps playing it straight, pretending that it mattered, was the only possible way to endure the job and retain their sanity.
Look, it’s not that every comedy has to be His Girl Friday. It’s that we should be able to expect that corporate-sellout filmmakers will at least pretend that their focused-grouped-to-death movies have some sort of point to make apart from engaging the audience’s prehuman lizard brain with an unholy stew of gastrointestinal distress, ethnic stereotypes, and gloopy sentiment. If Ferrer (The Manchurian Candidate, Silver City) and Jackson (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, In My Country) can pretend that their cardboard cops — who are so unoriginal that it would be an improvement if they were clichés — are worth a professional effort, then why couldn’t the screenwriters — Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman, and Stephen Carpenter — have accorded us, the audience, the same level of respect? We’re the ones who have to watch this crap, after all. But they didn’t even bother to disguise the fact that they were working from some studio memo that dictates that the average moviegoer demands 15 fart jokes, 8 instances of racist humor, and 3 moments that tug the heartstrings in order to declare a movie “fuckin’ awesome.”
The Man could only be more obvious if it consisted of nothing but a man on a dark, bare stage stuck in a 90-minute loop of breaking wind while insulting someone brown and foreign, and then producing a kitten that mews plaintively and adorably.
But that wouldn’t be much more obvious.
Many, many films have plots that are beside the point, but few of those dare to be as criminally idiotic as The Man‘s, which begins with the most ridiculous example of mistaken identity in just about forever, after which the plot gets really stupid. Jackson’s undercover ATF agent Derrick Vann sets up a buy with an illegal gun dealer (Luke Goss), who will know Vann because he’ll be sitting at the end of a diner counter reading a copy of USA Today. By an astoundingly outlandish and bizarre coinindence, in that very diner on that very morning, dental-supply salesman Andy Fidler (Eugene Levy: New York Minute, A Mighty Wind) is sitting at the end of the counter reading USA Today. I mean, what are the odds that anyone would be eating breakfast in the morning at a diner counter while reading that day’s newspaper?
But it’s okay cuz it’s funny, see how Andy’s such a hopeless dork and now bad guys think he’s a gun dealer, too! Oh, and he’s white! Best of all, he doesn’t like the F word, and now he’s stuck with Vann, who doesn’t say anything but the F word, and also enjoys beating up suspects and threatening Andy with anal prison rape, until he can actually arrange for Andy to be anally violated, which is hilarious, let me tell you.
Honestly, bring the family. I hear the kids are totally into anal prison rape and Homeland Security cavity searches these days.
That the cast manages to maintain its dignity at all is nothing short of miraculous.
It makes me very sad to report that The Man made me think of Midnight Run, which is my most favorite reluctant-buddy comedy ever and which still makes me laugh no matter how many dozens of times I watch it, because now I’m going to think about Eugene Levy’s explosive flatulence whenever Charles Grodin talks about potatoes Lyonnaise and those good-lookin’ chickens back there. And I just don’t need that cluttering up my brain.