The buddy action comedy is now the megaplex equivalent of an old vaudeville routine. It is shticky, it is beyond predictable, it is such a creaky ritual that one would be hard-pressed to remember when it was actually fun. Yet someone — audiences? writers? studio bean counters? — refuses to give it up. In The Man, the forces of circumstance that place Samuel L. Jackson, as a street-dapper Dirty Harry of an undercover ATF agent, and Eugene Levy, as a dental-equipment salesman so mild he looks like he carries a slide rule, in the same law-enforcement car are contrived enough that the film barely asks you to believe them. Levy, with his skewed gaze and neurotically logical manner of Schmuckus Americanus, mistaken for an icy arms dealer? Why not! Jackson, who puts the funk in being in a funk, forced to use Levy as bait? But of course!
Most of The Man is as awful as last year’s Jimmy Fallon?Queen Latifah debacle, Taxi, yet Levy, stuck in a no-brainer variation on Billy Crystal’s predicament in Analyze This, shows just enough noodgy passive-aggression to suggest what the movie might have been were it not shackled to buddy-action clichés. The money scene, to the extent that The Man has one, arrives when Levy, to sustain his cover, has to slap Jackson in front of the bad guys and ask, ”Who’s my bitch?” It isn’t quite Gene Wilder learning to walk like a soul brother in Silver Streak, but it’ll do.