Sigh. Let’s start with the positives, it’s always good to see Woody Harrelson, right? When Harrelson joined the cast of sitcom Cheers in 1985, his numbskull character was an immediate hit with viewers, yet few would have imagined a storied career lasting nearly four decades, various franchises (Star Wars, Hunger Games, Zombieland) and several Oscar nominations. But Harrelson is something of a US national treasure, a personable star and an accomplished comic and serious actor; he just needs to pick better vehicles than the bland The Man From Toronto.
Sold to Netflix for a quick buck, Sony’s action/comedy feels like a summer blockbuster from the 90’s; it milks a mistaken identity angle that was old hat when Bob Hope used it for The Paleface in 1948. Stop me if you’ve heard this one; a mild-mannered, down-on-his-luck entrepreneur called Teddy (Kevin Hart) is mistaken for a mysterious operative called The Man from Toronto aka Randy (Harrelson) when a faulty toner cartridge in his printer send him to the wrong log-cabin on vacation. The two men team up to take down a number of troublesome adversaries, The Man From Tokyo, The Man From Moscow and more, and life lessons about not being afraid of your ambitions are learned. Throw in The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Couco and rando retro-star Ellen Barkin and that’s just about a movie, right?
Like him or loathe him, Hart’s previous movies (Ride Along, Jumanji) have generally made money in the pre-pandemic era, but Sony seem to have lost confidence that he can open a film and hived Patrick Hughes’s film to the quick sale, yellow-sticker aisle of streaming service Netflix. There’s very little to suggest why The Man From Toronto got made in the first place; it’s the usual tired mixture of green screen locations, pop-culture gags, violent fights, slapstick pratfalls and generally shop-worn ideas. For a decade, Netflix seem to have been involved in a ‘Brewster’s Millions’ mission to spend as much money as possible and yet retain nothing of any material value as a result, and that ‘King Midas-in-reverse’ touch is very much apparent here.
What is the significance, if any, of The Man from Toronto? As America continues to combust on cue, perhaps there’s a market for such bland, derivative fare, a comfort blanket to hide under while the land of the free goes down in flames. For those not requiring a soporific, it’s inessential viewing, only partly redeemed by Harrelson in a role clearly interded for Jason Statham. Those seeking a fix would be better seeking out Lost In London, Harrelson’s live-streamed drama about his real-life escapades in the UK; presumably that’s the kind of creative, innovative project that the actor enjoys more, but The Man From Toronto doesn’t suggest much more than a star making rent the hard way.