Film review: Pitiful 'Man' a waste of talent

Published: Friday, Sept. 9 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

THE MAN — * — Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, violence).

Autumn is on the horizon, with its tantalizing promise of quality films following the pitiful offerings of summer. Until then, "The Man" is keeping us down.

Just to give you an idea of how egregiously this buddy-cop comedy squanders the unique talents of its stars, Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy are forced to endure not one but two lengthy flatulence jokes, one of which involves an elevator full of nuns. (Levy's character, a dental supply salesman, also urinates in a motel pool.)

The two must team up when Levy's character is mistaken for Jackson's tough-guy undercover federal agent during a stolen-weapons deal with generic European baddies. Each actor is relegated to a one-note role in a movie that's singularly high-pitched as it strains desperately for wacky laughs. (This should come as no surprise, however, from Les Mayfield, the man who directed "Encino Man," "Blue Streak" and "Flubber." Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman and Steve Carpenter collaborated on the script; apparently, it takes three people to come up with lines like, "You broke my gold tooth, dog!")

So "Pulp Fiction," it ain't, although Jackson tools around Detroit in a pimped-out Cadillac Coupe de Ville and launches into verbose tirades as ATF agent Derrick Vann. And in the raunchy-comedy department, "The Man" is no match for the inventiveness of the "American Pie" movies, in which Levy perfected the role of the overly chatty, overbearing but well-meaning dad.

But seeing these actors in these roles — which are so obviously similar to parts they've played in far superior films — makes "The Man" seem even less inspired than it already is.

Levy's happy-go-lucky Andy Fiddler, a married father of three from suburban Wisconsin, travels to Detroit to speak at a convention. Meanwhile, Vann is investigating a stolen-weapons ring and is himself under investigation by internal affairs after his dirty partner is murdered.

While reading the paper at a coffee shop, Andy is approached by well-dressed British thug Joey Trent (Luke Goss, a David Beckham look-alike with his chiseled features and shaved head), who hands him a paper bag containing a cell phone and a gun. Trent thinks Andy is Vann. Vann must therefore kidnap Andy and use him as a mouthpiece in order to keep his investigation intact.

You following so far? If not, try this — it's a thought that popped up after about one-third of "The Man" had gone by:

What if Mayfield had started from the same mistaken-identity premise but played it like a serious drama? What if Levy's character had a job that was less overtly nerdy and Jackson's character were mired in real moral decay? What if they drove around the city in severe danger, with no jaunty music propelling them from one adventure to the next?

Anything would have been better than the way "The Man" ultimately turned out; you certainly want something better for proven, veteran talents like these.

"The Man" is rated PG-13 for language, rude dialogue and some violence. Running time: 83 minutes.