Why ‘The Man From Toronto’ Does Netflix More Harm Than Good

As per usual for a Netflix original that boasts established movie stars and a theatrical-like pedigree, The Man from Toronto was the streamer’s most-watched movie last weekend, notching a strong (but not superlative) 53.8 million global hours. That translates to around 29 million full viewings of the 112-minute (105-plus-credits) action-comedy. However, as of today, Illumination’s ($407 million-grossing) Sing 2 has become Netflix’s most-watched movie in America, which argues for a lack of legs and poor buzz.

That would make sense since The Man from Toronto is unusually lousy, which explains why the Sony release, intended for theatrical release in August, was sent off to Netflix with little pre-release hype. I can’t blame Netflix for airing a terrible movie they didn’t make, but it doesn’t help their reputation as a glorified direct-to-video outlet for our streaming age.

The problems with The Man from Toronto are legion, including an unsympathetic lead character (Kevin Hart’s seemingly clueless get-rich-quick schemer who ends up mistaken for a hitman while on holiday with his wife), a miscast comic foil (Woody Harrelson, subbing in for Jason Statham after the latter dropped out.

While pairing Hart and Statham, two performers who have a loose working relationship (Hart cameoed in Hobbs & Shaw) and a specific onscreen persona, Harrelson offers has little connection to Hart. It’s like My Fellow Americans which failed to replicate Grumpy Old Man teaming Jack Lemon with James Garner instead of Walter Mattheau.

There’s also a kind of soft-shoe cut-for-PG-13 action that negates much in the way of style and inventiveness to the various showdowns. There’s an extended one-take finale that adequately impresses even if you can see the seams more than usual. The closest thing to novel is an extended beat that feels cribbed from Rush Hour, an obvious smash hit that wasn’t exactly considered an action movie milestone back in 1998. (I’d argue Rush Hour 2 is the best *action movie* of Brett Ratner’s Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan trilogy).

The biggest problem with The Man from Toronto, both in terms of its existence and what it represents as a “Netflix original,” is that it’s a pale imitation, a “mockbuster,” of other films that everyone involved already made. For Kevin Hart, it’s a painfully inferior version of Central Intelligence, the terrific two-hander he made with Dwayne Johnson in the summer of 2016 where he starred as an underachieving but sympathetic guy who gets roped into an espionage mission by a former classmate.

For Woody Harrelson, it’s an inferior version of his two mid-90’s buddy action flicks (The Cowboy Way with Keifer Sutherland and Money Train with Wesley Snipes), neither of which were classics of their time (although Money Train gave Jennifer Lopez her breakout role).

As for Patrick Hughes, it’s deeply inferior to The Hitman’s Bodyguard (now on Peacock) which paired a droll but committed Ryan Reynolds and a scenery-chewing Samuel L. Jackson and grossed $171 million on a $30 million budget. He is a solid action director who has made a career directing non-fantastical action movies, which almost feels unheard these days at the theatrical/non-VOD level (all due respect to Isaac Florentine and Jesse V. Johnson).

I mourn for the PG-13 edits made to Expendables 3 (now on Roku), but the actual nuts-and-bolts action choreography is solid, while his breakout Red Hill (currently on Amazon) is a lean and mean action drama that plays like a modern and self-reflective take on High Noon.

There are zero reasons to settle for Man from Toronto. Even if you’re just stuck at home, you can sample any number of plucky and pulpy VOD actioners (Tubi and Netflix have oodles of Scott Adkins and/or Michael Jai White-starrers) to say nothing of the various foreign action blow-ups that may occasionally blow your mind and put most Hollywood stuff to shame. Heck, on the same service as The Man from Toronto sits RRR, a three-hour Indian action spectacular that at its most unapologetically over-the-top and melodramatic feels like a dare to James Wan and James Cameron.

However, Netflix is betting that you’ll see Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson and press “play.” Honestly, that Netflix took this one almost qualifies as a mitzvah for theaters. Again, Netflix did not make the movie and had Sony opened it theatrically I would have been even less kind to it (you can google my review of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) since theatrical is in a kind of put-up or shut up scenario now.

That it became a Netflix film precisely because it was so bad only adds to the narrative that the streaming giant has become the modern version of direct-to-video and the home to inferior versions of previously popular theatrical films which are available on other streaming platforms. The Man from Toronto may be a brief viewership hit, but it (like The Cloverfield Paradox or the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel) does Netflix more harm than good.

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