With his latest film The Man, Samuel L. Jackson is a long way from his Pulp Fiction glory days. Maybe his salary has gone skyward since Quentin Tarantino bestowed Jules upon him, but luck, and money, especially in Hollywood, can run out.
One of the more elaborate and creative titles in movie history, The Man is yet another anti-buddy-cop flick--a grain of sand on a desert at this point. The story revolves around Special Agent Derrick Vann (Jackson), who is out to get the man (get it?) that killed his partner. But a case of mistaken identity leads him to Andy Fidler (Eugene Levy), a chatty dental supply salesman with too many questions. Of course, it's not match made in heaven. Vann and Andy's contrasting personalities--Vann's is hard-edged and no-nonsense; Andy's is affable to a fault--set into motion constant obstacles to overcome and, more importantly, the obligatory hijinks. Andy's nice-guy clumsiness leads them to the killers and then, invariably, away from the them. It also drives Vann crazy, but he knows that Andy is a necessary evil if he wants to pin the bad guys. Ultimately, what started off as (comedic) hatred for one another winds up mutual respect. Can you say sequel? Neither can we.
Jackson yells, scowls, furrows his brows, evokes his Pulp Fiction cool (briefly) and yells some more. No doubt, he can yell with the best of 'em, and even the granddaddy of yellers, Al Pacino, would be proud of this performance. The yang to Vann's yin, of course, is Levy's Andy. The two actors sure did their best to cultivate the most divergent characters possible, and, at least, to that end, they succeed. There is an engaging interplay between the two, but it's just been done so many times. On his part, Levy has now gone from playing one crazy kook after another in Christopher Guest's offbeat-but-hilarious comedies to almost, dare we say, leading-man status. But unfortunately, as a character actor, he is much more enjoyable and his talents better utilized when he isn't in every scene.
Director Les Mayfield has a history of making minor hits out of bad movies. He did so with 1999's Blue Streak, 1997's Flubber and 1992's Encino Man (yes, one man's guilty pleasure is another man's fruit of his labor). But his luck, too, might've run out with The Man. You can just see the desperation. When the fart jokes are the movie's best laughs, it's safe to say you're in trouble. Fart jokes aside, there are, at most, three genuinely funny scenes in the film for those who haven't yet dozed off. The director and writer clearly choose to play it safe, in every facet. In fact, the infants bawling in the front row are doing so because they, too, feel like they could've seamlessly written and directed The Man--and on a smaller budget.
With themes stolen from Midnight Run, Analyze This and countless others of its ilk, The Man unfortunately makes a feeble comparison. When it's released on DVD shortly, it should be paired with last year's Taxi as a double set.