“The Man from Toronto,” Patrick Hughes’ new buddy comedy starring Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson, is primed to pour gasoline on the debate by making another argument against Airbnbs as a less-than-viable vacation choice in 2022. But in this movie’s universe, along with chore lists and annoying rules, you could also find yourself mistaken for a world-renowned torture artist and forced to risk your marriage in order to save the world from nuclear destruction.
Teddy (Kevin Hart) doesn’t have a lot going for him. He does marketing for a boxing gym but gets fired when he forgets to put the gym’s address or phone number on his fliers. Attempts to drum up interest for his business idea, “Contact-Free Boxing,” which essentially amounts to boxing without hitting each other, are equally unsuccessful.
And things aren’t going much better at home. His wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews) resents his frequent mistakes, to the point where her co-workers have begun using “Teddy’d” as a verb to mean “screwed up.”
To turn things around, he plans a lavish birthday getaway for Lori, renting a cabin in Onancock, Virginia for a weekend of romance and relaxation. But in classic Teddy fashion, he forgot to fill their printer with toner. So when they approach the actual cabin, he can’t quite read the address that he printed out. He’s able to narrow it down to two houses, so he takes a guess and knocks on the door of the cabin he thinks he rented. He’s wrong.
The occupants of this cabin are waiting for a shadowy figure that everyone calls The Man from Toronto (Woody Harrelson). Employed by a mysterious crime syndicate whose assassins are only known by the city they hail from, The Man from Toronto is the best extractor of information in the world. If you have a hostage who won’t tell you what you need to know, he has a multitude of ways to make them talk.
The Man from Toronto has been hired for a lucrative two-part job that requires him to extract info from one man in Onancock and a second in Washington, DC. If he pulls it off, the payout could bring him life-changing money. And the first man is waiting for him in this cabin.
The man has always operated anonymously, and very few people have ever seen his face. So when Teddy shows up at the wrong address, the current occupants think they’re in the presence of the world’s greatest sadist. They force him to “extract” information from their hostage, which he miraculously does through a combination of begging and coercion. The men are satisfied with his performance and eager to see “The Man from Toronto” finish the job in DC.
But before they can leave, the house is hit by feds, who arrest everyone in the cabin. Teddy quickly clears up the misunderstanding, but the agents realize it has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Nobody knows what The Man from Toronto looks like, but they know he’ll be showing up in the nation’s capital. If Teddy can continue posing as him, he can acquire the address and help the government arrest one of the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Never much of a go-getter, Teddy is reluctant to help but agrees when they offer to pay off all of his debts and have a handsome agent pose as his wife’s personal butler throughout her birthday weekend.
It seems like a foolproof plan (seriously, try poking holes in any of that logic), until the real Man from Toronto gets word of what happened. He’s not about to let a failed boxing instructor rob him of a $2 million payday, and he’s not exactly interested in going to jail either. He essentially kidnaps Teddy and forces him to help him complete the mission — since the clients now think The Man from Toronto looks like Kevin Hart, Teddy has to be the one who shows up at the next location (with Woody Harrelson giving him torture instructions through an earpiece, of course).
On paper (and for the first 20 minutes or so), there really is a lot to love about “The Man from Toronto.” At first, Kevin Hart opts to play things straight, demonstrating a comedic restraint that feels like a welcome change of pace. The mayhem that ensues because he forgot to buy toner is a fun bit, and it allows the film to seamlessly usher us into the mistaken identity plot without feeling too forced. Woody Harrelson also starts strong, giving a convincing performance as an all-business torture artist with ice water in his veins. The two men seem like perfect foils for one another, are thrust together under relatively believable circumstances, and have to complete a mission that has no easy solutions.
Still, despite a fun premise and a well-structured first act, “The Man from Toronto” tries to do too many things at once and devolves into a strange bouillabaisse of studio comedy tropes. Hart retrogresses to his usual schtick as a frazzled man who freaks out under pressure and screams everything in a high-pitched voice. And Harrelson’s titular character takes a regrettable, predictable turn when he reveals himself to be a big softie who would rather make sorbet than rip eyeballs out of their sockets. Like almost every big-budget Netflix action movie, there is no shortage of lavish setpieces that, while competently executed, feel completely devoid of meaning or stakes. One of the biggest scenes can’t even get the attention of the background extras, who inexplicably never notice Kevin Hart falling from the ceiling and landing in the middle of a dance floor.
The movie also flips between genres at a whiplash-inducing pace, alternating between tense scenes that look like they borrowed camera lenses from “Better Call Saul,” wacky comedic sequences where everyone forgets the stakes, and sappy rom-com moments that could have been lifted from a Richard Curtis mood board. Rather than build toward something multifaceted, the film’s lack of focus causes it to fail at all of its goals, and the rapid transitions between tones lead to some truly bizarre scenes. After an allegedly funny moment where Teddy throws up on a room full of bad guys, the dramatic scene that follows is all the weirder because a character revealing important information is drenched in vomit.
That tonal incoherence functions as a look into the Netflix multiverse, allowing viewers to imagine other versions of this movie that could have existed. The brutality displayed in Harrelson’s first scene suggests that this could have been a solid action flick about a truly dangerous man and the normie who gets mixed up with him. The charming (if underused) subplot about the elite federal agent posing as Lori’s personal butler could have fueled a fluffy rom-com. And the various “Men from Other Cities,” while never really explained, could have been fleshed out and used to build a comedic version of the “John Wick” universe. With all of those potential choices dangling in front of our faces, it’s impossible to justify the ones that “The Man from Toronto” actually makes.
“The Man from Toronto” begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, June 24.