The Man will remind most of us of 48 Hours, with Samuel L. Jackson assuming Nick Nolte's disgruntled cop role and Eugene Levy downplaying Eddie Murphy's scene-stealing accomplice in crime.
Mistaken identities pull Levy's character Andy into the plot - he's a kindly Wisconsin dentist traveling to Detroit to speak at an industry conference. Because he's standing at a particular diner counter holding a USA Today, a team of arms dealers led by a tanned Euro (Luke Goss) mistakes Andy for a potential weapons buyer. Now Special Agent Derrick Vann (Jackson) needs Andy's cooperation to seal the deal and retrieve millions of dollars of stolen guns.
The geek in me suspects that a superior version of The Man would feature Fred Willard in Jackson's role, where he'd seamlessly gel with Levy as he played against type. Back in reality, this comedy is content to be insanely stupid but sporadically funny, scoring mostly when the spot-on Levy plays off Jackson's polished but typecast tough guy routine.
The odd couple displays strong comedic timing, which saves a handful of jokes that couldn't have even looked good on paper. Andy is routinely mistaken for a Turkish criminal because of an outstanding warrant he received while touring Istanbul. That setup allows the ridiculous plot to stretch further than you'd expect, but The Man fills its extended time with flatulence jokes and repetitive sequences of Vann beating his informant like a rented mule. At 84 minutes, there shouldn't be any fat to trim, though The Man takes unnecessary trips to Vann's broken home and backtracks to an Internal Affairs officer tailing the duo in hopes of tying Vann to the stolen weapons.
The Man resembles a buddy-cop adventure, with mismatched partners reluctantly solving a simple case. The screenplay, credited to three different writers, contains more than a few factual errors that are gleaned over in the film's energetic opening scenes.
The roles are tailored to Levy and Jackson's individual personalities, though the crime they're asked to unravel is as one-dimensional as the humor. That's not to say I wouldn't mind checking back with these two if they were assigned a better case and paired for a better movie. Their potential shines through in smaller scenes that succeed when elements of the formula are tweaked. In one such instance, Andy is ordered to deposit a paper bag into a trash can so the villains can retrieve it. We've seen this done countless times before, but this time a homeless man lingers over Andy's shoulder and eyeballs the sack. Levy's hesitant reaction and truthful confession to the bum put a mild smile on my face, and Levy often managed to keep it there. To truly be The Man, this comedy needed a few more interactions like that.
Who's the man now?