Director Patrick Hughes (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) returns for another action-oriented comedy with The Man from Toronto, similarly featuring an unlikely (if endearing) central duo that’s tasked with defeating a nefarious criminal force. While the Netflix Original film manages to sneak in a few genuinely funny moments, it’s not nearly as action-packed, suspenseful or humorous as it aims to be. For a film that’s largely about a fearsome globe-trotting assassin, it lacks guts. It flinches from the violence that defines its title character, then fails to make up for this underwhelming lack of tension with compelling action sequences or pyrotechnic flair. It’s also guilty of leaning on tired tropes, particularly when it comes to reductive depictions of women.
In an attempt to orchestrate an elaborate birthday getaway for his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews), struggling fitness entrepreneur Teddy (Kevin Hart) drops her off at a day spa in Onacock, Virginia while he gets a nearby cabin rental ready for their weekend stay. However, the confirmation email he physically printed out (in 2022…) is smudged due to a “low toner” issue, making it hard for him to make out whether the address contains a six versus an eight. Taking a gamble, he settles on pulling into the cabin with the six in its address. Believing the brawny, tattooed man who answers the door to be the rental manager, Teddy eagerly accepts what he thinks is a customary house tour—only to find himself in a dank basement containing a bloodied man strung up by his arms.
As it turns out, the goon who answered the door also mistook Teddy’s identity. In reality, he was expecting The Man from Toronto (Woody Harrelson), an assassin notorious for his brutal torture methods that always get political captives to spill their confidential intel. Since no one knows Toronto’s true identity, Terry’s box of birthday goodies—including a steak knife, an eggplant and personal lubricant—was mistaken for a cruel assortment of torture devices. Before he’s forced to actually harm the bound hostage, the FBI barges in on a raid. When it’s obvious that Terry is not the guy they’re looking for, the FBI offers a trade. If Terry keeps posing as Toronto in order to expose a Venezuelan coup (Ha! The FBI stopping a Latin American coup as opposed to orchestrating it!), the FBI will make sure that his tax lien and outstanding debts are forgiven.
So begins Terry’s odyssey, though it’s not long before the real Toronto tracks him down (while mid-air on a flight to Puerto Rico) and confronts him over assuming his identity. Of course, the aircraft becomes compromised and Toronto makes quick work of the military-grade crew escorting Terry. Now that he and Terry are the last two survivors on the plane, Toronto states that he’s only keeping him alive to co-opt the FBI’s attempt to track him down. But, predictably, the two begin to forge a friendship that gradually chips away at the hitman’s supposedly impenetrable exterior. Hart and Harrelson concoct a baseline element of chemistry that makes their developing camaraderie entertaining to watch, even if it’s absolutely senseless. Why would the world’s most feared assassin take a liking to the man who’d been tarnishing his reputation? There’s an allusion to a previous incident in Minnesota where Toronto showed mercy on a target, but the personal connection inherent to that situation doesn’t necessarily translate here. Nonetheless, their playful banter and varying endurance for violence (for reference, Teddy’s fitness venture lies in contactless boxing) make for a charming, if generic, formula for fast friendship.
Undoubtedly the film’s greatest downfall is its laziness concerning depictions of women, who solely exist to be defeated, courted or possessed by the masculine central duo. While Terry is assuming Toronto’s identity, Lori is put under the watchful eye of the sexy Agent Santoro (Jencarlos Canela). This enrages Terry, who instantly lobbies (albeit hilariously) for an uglier FBI escort. Lori is depressingly at ease with the possessive Terry’s financial issues and previous lack of commitment to celebrating her birthday. Though Terry cracks jokes about being “more afraid of Lori” than he is of hitman Toronto, there’s no evidence to support the idea that she’s anything less than loyal and supportive, possibly even to a fault. A random friend of Lori’s named Anne (Kaley Cuoco) even joins just in time for what turns out to be a double date with Terry, Lori and Toronto. For the film’s third-billed actor, it’s outrageous that her part is reduced to flirting with the hitman and turning into his fateful girlfriend during the final flash-forward scene. Ostensibly serving as the film’s “strong” woman character is Toronto’s boss, known only as his “Handler” (Ellen Barkin). Of course, her strength is predicated on her conniving, uncaring nature, eventually causing her to develop into the film’s main antagonist. These characters are reductive caricatures who represent the limited spectrum of women’s representation in media: Clueless wives, prospective sexual partners and compassionless bitches.
But even on a conceptual level, The Man from Toronto just doesn’t deliver impressive action sequences. This lowers the stakes considerably, causing the duo’s quest to lag. Both of the film’s best action sequences have to do with the same threat (falling from extreme heights), and the dramatic climax simply employs a handful of (apparently non-lethal) fireballs and car wrecks. Even when introducing additional shadowy characters—including men from Miami and Tokyo—the fights are contained to aimless shoot-outs and easy knock-outs. As opposed to developing who these “Men” are (also, are there no women assassins?) and how they relate to each other and the organization at large, they’re made into mere punching bags for Toronto to unleash his clearly repressed fury onto. As a breezy, popcorn-compatible streaming selection, The Man from Toronto delivers a tried-and-true buddy comedy formula that is far from revelatory, but reduces the unlikely duo trope to its most likable qualities—a feat that’s only pulled off due to the competence of its leads.
Director: Patrick Hughes
Writers: Robbie Fox, Chris Bremner
Stars: Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Ellen Barkin, Jasmine Mathews, Kaley Cuoco, Jencarlos Canela
Release Date: June 24, 2022 (Netflix)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine, Paste Magazine and Blood Knife Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan