Glen Powell's Netflix comedy is sexy and nihilistic: NPR

Glen Powell gets a star turn as Gary Johnson/”Ron”. Touch man.

Matt Lankes/Netflix


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Matt Lankes/Netflix

It seems the film industry's reputation is in constant turmoil. They don't make them like they used to anymore can be and is often applied to movie stars, special effects, non-franchise screenplays, erotic thrillers, rom-coms.

These concerns are valid, even if every now and then a new film comes along with a strong whiff of throwback energy – purposeful yet breezy pacing, crackling banter that is at once contemporary and timeless, and a performance that convinces you that here is a star is born. currently on the screen. And with that comes the warm memory that she still has can make them as they used to be, and sometimes still do. Richard Linklater's sexy, nihilistic comedy Touch man is one of those movies.

Glen Powell plays Gary Johnson, a conventionally attractive yet aggressively simple professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of New Orleans. He is the type of modest man who wears jean shorts, who easily blends into the background and is perfectly content to be boring; he lives alone in the suburbs with two cats named Ego and Id, drives a Honda Civic and seems to have no social life to speak of.

His only quirk, if we want to call it that, is that he works for the New Orleans Police Department, and as the film opens, that part-time gig suddenly kicks into high gear. When undercover detective Jasper (Austin Amelio) is suspended over a police brutality case, Gary replaces him as the department's fake hitman, encountering and arresting all kinds of disgruntled recruiters under the name “Ron.” It turns out that Gary likes to convince unsuspecting strangers that he's a cold-blooded killer. He researches his potential 'clients' to tailor his personality to their assassin fantasies, using an array of elaborate costumes, wigs and fake makeup. According to one suspect, he looks uncannily like Patrick Bateman.

Touch man sounds crazy in premise, but it is loosely based on a Texas Monthly Profile from a real Gary Johnson, who worked on-call for the Houston Police Department and was dubbed the “Laurence Olivier” of undercover murder investigations. Linklater and Powell, who co-wrote the screenplay, take the core of Johnson's story and embellish it for cinematic effect, moving from a slick, mildly comedic procedural in the first act to an erotic game of cat and mouse towards the climax of the film. Much like the private detective archetype in film noir, Gary is eventually hired by a beautiful young woman, except in this case she wants to steal her controlling husband. Maddy (Adria Arjona), of course, is pouty and flirty and femme fatale-y, and gets him caught in a rather compromising pickle.

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man.

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson Touch man.

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Brian Roedel/Netflix

The story remains grounded by avoiding a few contemporary pop culture clichés (thankfully, there are no obvious needle drops here) and the bright, electric chemistry between Powell and Arjona, whose dynamic evokes Jack and Karen's frenetic bickering. Out of sight.

But above all, this is Powell's film. It's almost too easy to draw direct parallels between him and Gary, but sometimes the most obvious is also the most correct. The actor has been around Hollywood for a while and recently played an antagonist Top Gun: Maverick And gossip blogs into frenzy with his Everyone but you co-star Sydney Sweeney. But like Gary the Professor, he's more side dish than entrée, innocuous and well, not particularly memorable. Ron, the fake contract killer, gives Gary the chance to tap into a part of himself that's far more fascinating, and Powell plays this supremely confident side to the hilt. When Ron utters a corny catchphrase about pie with a straight face, or goes into great detail in a flowing tone about how he will “dispose of” a body, Glen Powell, movie star with a capital M suddenly becomes a logical concept.

Touch man's final act is the kind you either go along with or get frustrated with. It's a big swing that tests the limits of suspension of disbelief. But the film's driving theme reflects a curiosity about the human capacity for change and self-creation, a struggle to decipher where the 'real' essence of you begins and/or ends. In Gary, Linklater and Powell find a character who cleverly shows how anyone, especially a film actor, can shape the personality he or she wants – with the right tools.

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