Many things go into someone being a movie star. Not the least of them is that simply seeing an actor on the screen makes you happy. By that measure alone, Kevin Hart is a movie star.
It’s easy enough to describe what’s wrong with the Netflix action comedy “The Man From Toronto,” which starts streaming on Friday. It’s nasty and clumsy, tonally erratic, lacking in texture, and pretty stupid. How stupid? It thinks you need a passport to fly from Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C. If there’s a sequel, it better not be called “The Man From San Juan.”
It takes only two words to describe what’s right: Kevin Hart. He’s endearing and shameless and irrepressible, a wind-up toy that never needs winding. If he had any more energy, we’d have a guaranteed petroleum-free future. Cold fusion, thy name is Kevin Hart.
The Man From Toronto — the character who gives the movie its title — is the world’s most dangerous hitman, “an expert in an over 23 martial arts,” we’re told. He also bases all his passwords on 19th-century American poetry and has a very cool 1969 Dodge Charger RT. Playing him, Woody Harrelson seems alternately bored and embarrassed. This speaks well for Harrelson’s good sense.
Through a set of circumstances that aren’t as ridiculous as you might think, Hart’s character, Teddy Jackson, is mistaken for Mr. Toronto (whose given name we never do learn). Teddy posts videos, which we get to see, for all sorts of exercise schemes: a TeddyBar, a TeddyBeam, no-contact boxing, which he promotes as “Dream Big, Punch Harder.” Teddy is such a screw-up his friends and wife use “to teddy” as a verb for, yes, screwing up.
His many faults notwithstanding, Teddy has a beautiful and supportive wife, Lori (Jasmine Mathews). While he’s off in mistaken-identity mode, her friend Maggie (Kaley Cuoco) keeps Lori company.
That mode involves dismemberment, murder, the threat of torture, and something called “seismic explosives.” The bad guy is a Venezuelan colonel, which means that “The Man From Toronto” is the other movie coming out this week involving someone with that title. Colonel Tom Parker, in “Elvis,” isn’t quite as nefarious, but he gets a lot more screen time.
Action comedies involve comedy and action. The comedy here has occasional moments. That’s usually owing to Hart. “They call me The Man From Toronto,” he whispers to an intended victim. Pause. “I don’t even know where that is.” In a minor miracle of mirth manufacture, he even manages to make a throwing-up joke funny.
Harrelson gets some laughs, too. When his boss, known only at The Handler (Ellen Barkin), asks if he’s letting Teddy live, Mr. Toronto replies, “Temporarily.” The topspin Harrelson imparts to the adverb could get him seeded at Wimbledon. Even better, when Mr. Toronto shoves Teddy into a photo booth, to take a photo for that passport he doesn’t need, Teddy snarls — to the extent Kevin Hart is capable of snarling — “What’s that for, your serial-killer wall?” Harrelson replies, “You think you’re wall material? You wouldn’t even make the fridge.”
The action sequences are sluggish and confusing. Part of the climactic sequence is shot in a long take using handheld camera. Perhaps somebody showed the director, Patrick Hughes, “Atomic Blonde” (2017). If so, Hughes wasn’t paying attention. Hughes’s previous two films, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (2017) and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife” (2021), also center on a character who’s the world’s most dangerous hitman. (The first one’s better than “The Man From Toronto,” the second one’s worse.) He might want to consider a Thomas Hearns movie for his next project. Clearly, he’s the guy to direct a biopic of The Hitman.
THE MAN FROM TORONTO
Directed by Patrick Hughes. Written by Robbie Fox, Chris Bremner, Jason Blumenthal. Starring Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Jasmine Mathews, Kaley Cuoco, Ellen Barkin. Streaming on Netflix. 109 minutes. PG-13 (violence, strong language, suggestive material — we don’t see any torturing, but the threat of it in several scenes is so off-putting that R would seem to be in order).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.