The Man

(2005) ** Pg-13
84 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Malcolm D. Lee. Cast: Martin Lawrence, Louis C.K., Nicole Ari Parker, James Earl Jones, Joy Bryant.

As I sat down to write a review of the Samuel L. Jackson-Eugene Levy buddy comedy The Man (you read that right, but go ahead, read it again just to be sure—I'll wait), I decided that now is as good a time as any to give you a bit of insight into the tortured mind of a movie critic.

As many movie fans suspect, most critics know too much about movies to see them as an average moviegoer would. Most moviegoers plopping down their $9 to see The Man will ask themselves, "Am I getting my money's worth?" Beyond that, there's not much to consider.

But consider the strange distractions of the film reviewer. For one thing, a critic's currency is time (I, for instance, spent twice as long driving to and waiting for The Man as I did watching it), and even the most callous buttocks will tend to squirm during predictable plots. But it gets weirder.

During the credits of The Man, I couldn't help but notice that one of the screenwriters is Jim Piddock, the English actor who shared the screen with Levy in A Mighty Wind and Best in Show (as the commentator alongside Fred Willard). Apropos of anything? Not really. But there it is: taking up precious brain cells. (Piddock's co-screenwriters are Margaret Oberman and Steve Carpenter. There! Now you're wasting brain cells.)

The Man takes place in Detroit, but a half-hour into the movie, I recognized a character actor named Philip Akin in the small supporting role of an Internal Affairs investigator subordinate to Miguel Ferrer's alpha cop. I happen to know that Philip Akin lives in Canada, so whenever I see him in an American film, I know it wasn't shot where it is set (after all, no respectable American studio would set a film in Canada!). Are you starting to get a picture for the critic's special circle of hell?

But I know better than to complain. The real problem is yours: how can you trust a critic whose mind wanders to such irrelevant extremes? Well, if the movie is commanding enough, distractions quickly fade, mind triumphs over posterior, and memorable qualities lodge in the mind, just waiting to flow out into a glowing review. You'll notice that hasn't happened with The Man.

Instead, let's take a look at my notes. Levy: "dental-supply salesman." Jackson: "ATF agent." "Volatile combination of annoying guy and hothead...Macho and the wimp." "Very familiar, very predictable" plot: a buddy comedy with uber-nerd Levy mistaken for a gunrunning badass and Jackson trapped as exasperated babysitter. "Levy repeatedly calling Samuel Jackson his 'bitch.'" Both characters are "pros with ballerina daughters" but the "supposed bonding [is] a real stretch." Villain: "This guy's got to be smarter than he looks." Henchman: "Well, he can't be any dumber than he looks." "Flatulence humor."

But we critics are only human, and I have to say that while I can't, in good conscience, call The Man a strong movie, I bow to the Buddha nature of Jackson and Levy, two winning performers (I'll even share the love with supporting players Ferrer, Anthony Mackie, and Horatio Sanz). I also noted "good energy," in favor of Les "Encino Man" Mayfield. Maybe I'm just an old softie, but the average moviegoer in me can see the entertainment value in The Man. Just not $9 bucks worth.

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