Nobody can play an angry black man like Samuel L. Jackson. And nobody can play a nebbish like Eugene Levy. So if you put the two of them together, you're guaranteed instant comedy, right? Uh...not exactly. In The Man, their first-and most likely last-outing together, Jackson and Levy do demonstrate some comic chemistry, but not enough to overcome a by-the-numbers script. How lazy is this screenplay? So lazy that one of the supposed high points involves Levy experiencing a bad case of gas while Jackson grimaces in disgust. Believe it or not, it apparently took three writers to come up with that gag.
In what can only be a coincidence or a far-too-subtle reference to his role in Waiting for Guffman, Levy plays a dental-supply salesman named Andy Fiddler, who leaves his home in Wisconsin for the mean streets of Detroit to attend his company's annual conference. The overly talkative Midwesterner is in the Motor City for less than 24 hours when, through a case of mistaken identity, he's approached by a band of gunrunners about purchasing their merchandise. That's when special agent Derrick Vann (Jackson) enters Fiddler's life; Vann was supposed to be the guy this gang contacted, but he arrived at the meeting place just a minute too late. Now he needs to keep Fiddler around in order to stay on the bad guys' trail. Naturally, this odd couple doesn't get along at first, but those frosty feelings start to thaw as Vann gives Fiddler a crash course in street smarts and the salesman returns the favor by helping the gruff officer be a better father to his young daughter.
The Man was directed by Les Mayfield, an undistinguished helmer-for-hire who scored a hit a few years ago with the Martin Lawrence comedy Blue Streak. With its largely irrelevant plot and generic characters, the movie certainly feels as if it were written for someone like Lawrence to play the cop role, with Tom Arnold in the part of the annoying salesman. One can only speculate how and why Jackson and Levy became involved, but they were probably well-compensated for their time. While both actors are too professional to simply phone their performances in, they must have realized early on that they were fighting a losing battle against the material. That might explain the tinge of weariness that underlines their banter. (No doubt they were also experiencing flashbacks to some of the lesser comedies they toiled in before they were stars-long-forgotten titles like Amos and Andrew or Armed and Dangerous.) At least Levy and Jackson can take heart in the knowledge that moviegoers are unlikely to remember The Man in a month or two anyway. Just in case, though, they'd be wise to omit this film from any future résumés or career-highlight reels.