Movie: Have you ever seen a male bonding (sometimes called a "buddy") movie that was supposed to be two parts comedy, one part antagonism towards one another, and one part cultural difference? I strongly suspect most of us have seen such flicks over the years be they the violent 48 Hours style, the Lethal Weapon style, or the numerous other cliché ridden offerings of the past. The interesting thing for me is that no matter how poorly made, no matter how stupid the elements of the particular title, or no matter how goofy the specifics of a title are; some people will jump up and down proclaiming how good the movie was. I don't think it's fair to suggest they have no taste or that the LCD factor applies because I really think that such people are programmed to respond to the similarities of the better movies in the genre rather than look at the differences (as critics and reviewers are supposed to). Today's review that brings all this to mind is a little flop from last year called The Man, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy, as a couple of societal misfits tossed together by circumstance, who need each other to survive an ordeal involving hoodlums and stolen weapons.
Jackson plays an embittered federal agent (are there any other kind in the movies?) whose partner is killed in a warehouse raid in which thieves break in and steal a lot of high powered guns from the authorities. His own internal affair overseers believe he's crooked two, in a role that could've been phoned in by the talented (and completely wasted) Miguel Ferrer. He sets out to catch the crooks, not to clear his dead partner's name so much as because it's what he does; he catches bad guys by breaking any and every rule and code of procedure since they hinder his efforts. Levy, on the other hand, plays a dental supply expert from Wisconsin in Detroit for a convention. He inadvertently is in the wrong place at the wrong time and this leads to a case of mistaken identity by the hoodlums who stole the guns in the sting initiated by Jackson. That causes Jackson to need his cooperation in order to seal the deal, much to his chagrin because he simply doesn't trust anybody. Jackson beats people, swears in every other sentence, and generally don't give a damn about anyone but his own desires, leading him to abuse Levy to the breaking point. This doesn't sit well with the verbal, high strung salesman and the majority of the movie centers on how they play one upsmanship with each other.
In the end, you know they'll be shootouts, car chases, and a variety of intrigue as the characters stumble through the roles they are cast in but I found myself asking "why" more often than not when I first saw the movie (during a flight to Las Vegas enroute to attend the 2006 AEE Show or "porn convention" as most people call it). Obviously the only reason Jackson gets away with beating on street thugs is that he's black (read the headlines and tell me otherwise, I dare you) so the rules of conduct don't apply to him. Levy is such a schlep that he goes through the motions of the character but never convinces the audience that he's doing anything but sleepwalking through the movie. The limitations of the running time (it clocked in at a merciful ~83 minutes) prevented any significant character growth (at least any BELIEVABLE character growth) and the two came across as oil and water in how well they mixed. Let's face it; Levy has a long history of near brilliant work and Jackson is as capable of portraying the pissed off black cop as well as anyone that's ever lived (some would say it's his only character worth mention though I'm not one of them) but the substandard writing held both of them for ransom in such a way that I find it difficult to describe exactly why the movie failed to get any laughs on the flight.
Interestingly though, I tried a little test of my own before writing this review and set a friend to watching it by herself. While not exactly a "Joe Six-pack" type, she generally has a sense of humor akin to the quirkiest of souls, and she seemed to laugh more than a slacker at a dope festival. I know there are personal tastes involved in what works as comedy for one person but not another but this went beyond the obvious answers and I still can't explain it satisfactorily. In that sense, I suspect some people will really like this one while most of us will raise our eyebrows, tilt our heads, and wonder what it is those few see in the show that perhaps we missed. The quotes on the box cover sure yielded no clues since the usual hacks were the ones offering their musings (there's definitely a pecking order in terms of quotes I've noticed in advertising) and the lowest form of potty humor seemed to be the focal point in this case but it went beyond that too. For one, neither character was sympathetic. Jackson's routine dismissal of his daughter's life left me colder than a witch's tit and Levy's talkative whining left me wanting to shoot him myself (Jackson shot Levy at one point to ensure cooperation) so even the basic character defaults were flawed.
In all though, there was no chemistry between the pair here and that was the biggest stake through the heart of the show. If you don't have chemistry, the best writers in the world couldn't save it, never mind the trio that pieced this one together. In that sense, I'm convinced that most of you will think of this as worthy of only a Skip It but a few brave souls may want to give it a chance and rent it before making the final decision. If it had any internal logic or consistently interesting approaches, I'd have elevated it but I can't believe that either of the leads were so hard up for money as to need to make this one and there's little possibility that anyone figured this would work after a few scenes were shot.
Picture: The Man was presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color as directed by Les Mayfield (the guy who directed Encino Man). It looked pretty sharp with accurate fleshtones, decent technical aspects like a sharp focus, and compositional matters handled well enough to allow for the actors to express themselves very well (giving Levy room for his brand of physical comedy among other things). The technical aspects of the movie came off as well handled to the point where they shined compared to the comedic elements. There were some moments where some rainbows were noticed and pattern noise popped up but they were rare enough to lead me to think the DVD was mastered pretty well (no compression artifacts either).
Sound: The audio was actually (slightly) better than expected with a fair amount of separation on the various audio track offerings and some decent dynamic range to boot. The choices this time were a DTS 5.1 Digital Surround, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo; all in English with optional English or Spanish subtitles. The vocals were crisp and clear, the music seemed a little low budget and too urban but fitting the subject matter yet none of the tracks truly stood out as anything special. The use of special effects and rear speakers was practically nonexistent and while this audio experience worked in the confines of an airplane's crappy little headset speakers, it did little to impress me with a decent home theatre.
Extras: There were some okay extras on the DVD worth mentioning. It started out with a couple minutes of bloopers that showed Levy flubbing his lines more than anyone else. They were followed by almost 6 minutes of deleted or alternate scenes. This section really didn't have much to offer either, generally fleshing out a couple of key scenes and showing a bit of material that actually seemed to work better in my mind. The best extras came after that with four featurettes; Sam Jackson's Guide to Cursing Like A Bad A&% Mothaf@*, Who's The Man, Making An Action Scene, and The Ride: A Look At The '83 Cadillac. They added more entertainment value to me than the movie itself, lasting between five and fifteen minutes each. The other extras were some trailers and sneak peaks for various movies.
Final Thoughts: The Man may well work for you if you've never been subjected to the multitude of sins the movie tosses at the audience so casually. I thought the two talented actors were misused and the writing bad enough to qualify for automatic inclusion on my "bad taste" awards of the year, no small feat considering I usually review porn and it being January. The technical aspects weren't bad and neither were the extras but the actual movie suffered from more sins than I could easily count in two and a half sittings so you'll have to decide for yourself whether it's worth a look. The easy rule of thumb is that if you've never seen a bad buddy cop movie; you'll probably like it but the rest of you will likely find it tedious and poorly executed in terms of all the factors that really matter.