What can be expected from a movie called The Man? A comedy from the director of American Outlaws starring Samuel L. Jackson riffing on his Jules character from Pulp Fiction with the dad from American Pie can't be decent, can it? Surprisingly, this new fall comedy is actually humorous if not outright hilarious, and it is certainly better than it looks on paper or in the TV-spots. It is a great example of a "pleasant surprise." That's not to say the premise isn't pretty cookie-cutter: Andy Fidler, an innocent dental tools salesman (cue Eugene Levy) gets caught up in an illegal weapons plot and must deal with Special Agent Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson playing what he plays best) and his crazy world.
Vann and Andy happen to be polar opposites, as well. What a surprise.
If this all sounds strangely like the average buddy comedy about the well-mannered white guy and the tough-as-nails black guy who don't get along at first but learn to appreciate each other and then become best friends, well, it pretty much is. However, unlike many buddy comedies, this one is actually enjoyable.
At a brisk 83 minutes the movie never lags too much, and instead of focusing on its implausible story or cliché subplots The Man keeps it mainly about the chemistry between its two main characters. Also, although much of the script is forgettable seldom is pure boredom reached.
Traps such as unoriginal overused subplots and gaping plot holes can often catch many unsuspecting buddy comedies by surprise and help make them DOA (dead on arrival), but The Man actually seems to revel in its unoriginality, content with not pushing boundaries but with instead just having some fun.
In the acting department, Samuel L. Jackson is especially a surprise. While it seems he would be pretty much bored of playing the same badass character time and time again, he manages to come off convincingly and even have some fun riffing on his theatrical persona. However, the movie never winks too much at the audience and it is able to stand on its own two feet rather than constantly say, "Hey guys don't mess with the Samuel L!" The fact that Eugene Levy is very talented at playing a character who is truly clueless also helps. Both Jackson and Levy have good chemistry and even though it's pretty much a two-man show The Man comes off without a hitch because it knows what its strength is: Levy and Jackson.
The only other actor that even warrants a mention really is Luke Goss as Joey. He helps make a mundane role tolerable and interesting. He doesn't steal the show, but he has fun with being the typical criminal villain surrounded by non-descript henchmen.
In the end, much credit should go to director Les Mayfield for his quick pacing and use of a variety of jokes. Again, with a movie that is basically just a rehash of many other comedies it is smart to never dabble on one topic too much and to let the actors roam free and get into their performances. The Man never becomes showy with fancy special effects or tons of big star cameos. Rather, it makes do with what it has.
Sure, there are a lot of visual gags and the infamous "fart jokes" (those don't seem to ever get old for Hollywood), but it's all in good fun and there's enough semi-clever situation humor to keep the entire thing moving. Sometimes it's even evident what is about to happen, but when it does it happens in a way that is just unexpected enough to be humorous in its absurdity. One gag involving the drop off of "some merchandise" at a crowded street corner is a nice play on the clichés of so many other movies very similar to this.
In the end, lives won't be changed because of The Man and it probably won't be as well received or as popular as something like the Wedding Crashers, but funny is funny and for an evening out at the movies a lot worse things could happen. Just look at The Cave.
Critic's Conclusion: It's not the funniest movie of the year but that doesn't mean it isn't funny at all, and what The Man lacks in originality it more than makes up for in charm mixed up with some lively performances. It's better than the TV-spots might lead you to believe, and although it's not a must see there are a million worse ways to spend a few bucks and a couple of hours.