2 stars (out of four)
It's written somewhere in the Male Bonding Handbookprobably on buckskin parchment, scrawled in sweatthat whenever two men share a car, flatulence jokes aren't far behind.
Maybe it's the close quarters, the need to mark one's territory.
In the buddy comedy "The Man," they fill a void. In the absence of actual jokes, jokes about passing gas are a cheap, easy laugh.
Samuel L. Jackson plays essentially Samuel L. Jackson with John Travolta's hair from "Pulp Fiction." To avoid confusion, however, the filmmakers refer to Jackson as Special Agent Derrick Vann, a federal agent in Detroit tracking the gunrunners who killed his partner. Second City comedy alum Eugene Levy co-stars as Andy Fidler, a motor-mouthed dental supply salesman caught in the middle of a gun deal gone bad.
Levy has enjoyed a heightened profile in the past few years, thanks in part to a recurring role as Jim's Dad (the character's actual name) in the "American Pie" trilogy. He has co-written (with director Christopher Guest) films such as "Best in Show" and "Waiting for Guffman"pulling double-duty as one of Guest's funniest company performers.
Levy is the John Wayne of comedy. Like the Duke, he plays variations on the same character: a painfully awkward, heart-of-gold nerd trapped in an adult body. He does what he does well. Audiences know what they're getting and are occasionally treated to something inspired, such as his turn as the reclusive, sub-verbal songwriter Mitch Cohen in "A Mighty Wind."
Both actors play to type in "The Man," neither with much variation. Jackson delivers his patented foul-mouthed performance; Levy is the mensch in search of street cred. There's just not much for them to do, other than ride around Detroit in Vann's tricked out fed-mobile, arguing the whole time.
They fight, try to buy guns from baddies (including rocker-turned-actor Luke Goss) and eat some "tasty burgers," Jackson says, in an homage to his character in "Pulp Fiction." But, red meat doesn't agree with Andy, and soon he's torturing elevators full of nuns (and the audience) with the consequences.
The rest of the movie flails about for a consistent tone. Too slapstick to be a hardboiled cop movie, too foul-mouthed and violent to be a light comedy, "The Man" can't decide where it wants to go. So its stars drive around for ages bickering, bonding, fighting and cursing. Eventually, and predictably, Andy softens up Vann, shares some parenting advice and earns his respect.
Both Jackson and Levy are better than director Les Mayfield's ("Blue Streak") meandering comedy. Too long in the sidekick role, veteran Levy deserves more, and Jackson should know better. But as long as airlines need sub-par comedies, "The Man" will have a home flying the friendly skies. On the ground, it goes nowhere.
Directed by Les Mayfield; screenplay Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman and Steve Carpenter; cinematography by Adam Kane; production design by Carol Spier; music by John Murphy; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; produced by Robert N. Fried. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:24. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, rude dialogue and some violence).
Derrick Vann - Samuel L. Jackson
Andy Fidler - Eugene Levy
Joey - Luke Goss
Lt. Carbone - Susie EssmanCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun