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Derrick Vann and Andy Fidler couldn’t be more different. A gun-toting special agent with the ATF, Vann doesn’t leave home without a weapon.
Fidler doesn’t leave home without dental floss.
Vann is callous, foul-mouthed, insensitive and wants us to believe he’s utterly fearless. Fidler, on the other hand, sells dental hygiene products and would rather tell you about the breath-freshening benefits of using a tongue scraper than even consider the notion of a verbal altercation—much less a physical one.
But that doesn’t stop the bullets from flying when mistaken identity lands this friendly family man amid a crime-fighting whirlwind with Vann. Fidler learns how to take on the bad guys and Vann learns a few things about being less of a hard case.
Although Vann has Fidler blurting curse words before the film ends, Fidler also leaves a mark on Vann, who gradually loses a bit of his tough-guy exterior. When Vann refuses to walk away from his investigation even for an hour to see his daughter's ballet recital, Fidler takes it upon himself to convince Vann to attend. (Fidler also doles out common sense advice about how Vann needs to change the way he's relating to his ex-wife.) We even see Vann using kind words such as "sorry," "thank you" and “you’re welcome” under Fidler’s tutelage.
When Fidler spends an afternoon in jail, we see a female inmate grab him provocatively from behind. Vann makes a crack about Fidler "getting married" (to a guy) in prison. Fidler expresses shock over the size of a man's anatomy that he feels while patting him down. And he stammers around trying to distance himself from a statement he makes about thinking a man is attractive. (A visual gag has him "kissing" Vann's cheek while being thrown around inside a swerving car.) A couple of women reveal cleavage.
Special Agent Vann has two very serious character flaws. The first is his eagerness to brush aside rules and regulations, and I'll deal with that later in "Other Negative Elements." The second is his tendency toward violence. Sure, he’s out for the greater good, but he’s awfully fond of pushing people around and roughing them up along the way.
A snitch he relies on takes quite a bit of abuse from Vann before meeting his maker at the hands of a fellow crook. Vann repeatedly rams him with his car (while he's on foot), hits him over the head with a trash can lid and a phone book, bashes him against a telephone pole and pins him against a chain-link fence. Vann also fires a training bullet at Fidler, grazing his posterior. And while forcing Fidler into his car he intentionally smacks the man's face into the roof.
We don’t see much blood and gore, but we are exposed to flying bullets and photographs of dead bodies. The start of the film shows some extreme close-ups of a dead man. A tense standoff scene late in the film has multiple weapons drawn, including one pointed at Fidler’s head. Fidler "fixes" the situation by biting down on his captor’s arm (he brags about the power of the human jaw), which triggers a firefight that leaves a man dead.
Crude or Profane Language
Vann’s got a foul mouth. And from it flows an abundance of crude language including more than 30 s-words. He uses the f-word against Fidler, who responds by teaching Vann a "trick" he uses to keep himself from saying the obscenity. But that verbal trick, played out onscreen, accomplishes little more than giving the screenwriter an excuse to prolong the attention the four-letter word gets in this PG-13 movie. Portions of it are said out loud multiple times before the two men move on to other foul subjects—such as flatulence.
"A--" is said about 30 times. "B--ch about 20. (Vann and Fidler turn the use of "b--ch" into something of a comedy routine, using it in its most abusive function. "H---" is said about 15 times. God’s and Jesus’ names are abused close to six times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Minor characters drink in a bar.
Other Negative Elements
Throughout the film, Vann “borrows” money from his unit's evidence vault. And while we know he intends to return it, he knows there’s a chance it could get seized (and it does) by the criminals he’s out to nab. That's one example of how Vann routinely breaks rules "for a good cause." Does he have a good heart? Mostly. But he's far from role model material. Not that the film cares. Onscreen, he's made to appear cool and worth rooting for, even as he cheats, steals and lies.
The movie makes more than a few attempts to get cheap laughs. Fidler has a couple of severe cases of flatulence after eating beef (red meat “doesn’t agree” with him). Vann suffers through one of these attacks in his car, and Fidler smells up an elevator right before a group of nuns get inside. One of them reacts by taking Jesus' name in vain.
Vann makes an uncalled for remark that trivializes the brutality used against slaves.
Fed up with the rawness of his new partner in crime fighting, Fidler asks Vann, “Why do you swear all the time? Do you think it makes you sound tougher?”
It does in this movie, at least. And that fact paves the way for a discussion about the way these two men look at the world and the way their viewpoints impact their lifestyles. Fidler is a family man who says he’s never met anyone he didn’t eventually become friends with. He’s meek and we can tell he genuinely has respect for his fellow man. Vann, on the other hand, says, “Trust can get you dead” and "I've never met a man whose a-- I didn't kick eventually."
So, how do their differing opinions alter their personas? Fidler's trusting outlook has turned him into a trustworthy person. And fear of trust makes Vann, well, worth fearing. That's a lesson worth learning. But The Man teaches us another lesson in the process. Namely, that no matter what kind of positivity can be forcibly extracted from any given movie script, lots of swearing, stupid flatulence gags and senseless violence smell up the joint so much you have to ask yourself, who really would want to stick around for such small morsels?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Samuel L. Jackson as Special Agent Derrick Vann; Eugene Levy as Andy Fidler; Luke Goss as Joey
Les Mayfield ( )
New Line Cinema