Off Color

Black-and-white oddball buddy idea is fine, especially with Jackson and Levy. But bathroom humor flushes half the fun in 'The man.'

Movie Reviews

September 09, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The generic new action farce The Man boasts a partial saving gracelessness. It's the in-each-other's-face chemistry of Samuel L. Jackson as a Detroit-based ATF agent and Eugene Levy as a Milwaukee dental-supplies salesman. Levy flies to the Motor City for a convention only to be mistaken for an international gun dealer buying a stash of hot ATF weaponry.

Levy's clash of temperament with Jackson's Fed goes beyond the trite yoking of a sweet white doofus to a tough, profane black man. Whenever the film gives them a chance, they make a risible physical and aural matchup.

Jackson expresses his always-simmering, sometimes-explosive rage with a glare that focuses like a spotlight or sweeps across a mean street like a klieg. Levy's eyes tend to dart and bounce behind his glasses like pinballs rebounding against bumpers. Jackson's contempt for the world comes out in targeted, razor-edged imprecations; his rasp jumps all the way up from his diaphragm. Levy is so nasal his voice must emanate from a single nostril. Together they look like Shaft meets Monk.

But even at a mean 83 minutes, their friction can't heat up enough hilarity to make this a laugh riot. Les Mayfield doesn't know how to stage showdowns and chases so they're exciting or funny. When Jackson runs a snitch into a fence with his car, it isn't uproarious - it's just plain brutal. The Detroit streets here feel painfully ersatz: like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Man was shot in Canada.

The brief, still-labored plot involves Levy going up repeatedly against a slick Brit outlaw. Their confrontations yield only a couple of payoffs, most notably when Levy introduces Jackson to the slimy Limey as his, let us say, female dog.

The movie flirts with being a family comedy. Levy tries to wean Jackson of his favorite cuss word by saying "fuh-crying-out-loud." He persuades the driven lawman to be more openly loving and attentive to his daughter and more trusting toward people in general.

But the fillips of high-mindedness feel out of place in a movie that falls back on toilet comedy - if you can call a man being offed in his privy comic. There's a running joke about Levy's rampaging flatulence. Some lucky biochemist could solve the energy crisis if he could figure out how to refine this film's tank-loads of passed gas.

The Man

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy

Directed by Les Mayfield

Released by New Line

Rated PG-13

Time 83 minutes

SUN SCORE ** 2 STARS

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