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‘Monkey Man’ – Dev Patel is superb and action is brilliant, but story is a little undercooked…

‘Monkey Man’ –  Dev Patel is superb and action is brilliant, but story is a little undercooked…

His first film behind the camera shows immense promise…

IN MANY ways this is a tour de force and has been rightly hailed as so.

Welcome Dev Patel as debutant director extraordinaire…if you love action films, this will be right up your chuddies.

The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and Patel, playing the central character, really looks the part as the tortured young man, who is out to avenge the murder of his mother at the hands of a corrupt and politically well-connected police chief.

‘Monkey Man’

It is US director-writer Jordan Peele (‘Get Out’) that first responded to all this and took it to Universal Pictures, where he has his own picture deal and after them seeing it, the global company said they would distribute it – otherwise this film which was originally destined only for Netflix – has a big screen showing that should be global…and is reportedly coming out in India at the same time as everywhere else from this Friday, April 5.

The film features a host of Indian talent – Sobhita Dhulipala, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, and Sikander Kher to name just a few.

There is much to admire on one level – this is technically inspired and a hugely accomplished film – it is as Patel rightly said to us in his interview (see our Youtube channel – link below) – an ode to action films of the genre of Brue Lee – a tribute to that glorious past.

Kid (Dev Patel) and Alpha (Vipin Sharma)

Patel, described simply as ‘kid’ in this, is inspired by the example of Hanuman, the Hindu god/icon who represents wisdom, strength, courage, devotion and self-discipline and is by Lord Ram’s side in the bid to rescue his wife Sita and defeat the demon figure of Ravanna (as told in ‘The Ramayana‘).

At the beginning of the film, we find ‘kid’ (Patel) plying his trade as a fighter in what appears to be an unregulated Mixed Martial Arts arena – though one hesitates to even accord it that status, because it is brutal, unremitting and safety is that last thing on the mind of those organising and cashing in.

The monkey head gear allows for anonymity and is the perfect representation of yes, a performing monkey (as Patel told us in our interview).

At this juncture, ‘kid’ is one of millions of people whose existence is barely of note to anyone – his mother is dead and he appears to have no family and is eking out an existence on the periphery.

It is only when he teams up with shady wheeler-dealer Alphonso (Pitobash) and gets a job in a posh joint – which is run and controlled by influential people – Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar), that his predicament begins to change.

Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala) in ‘Monkey Man

At this point, he doesn’t know how significant his post as a security officer will be in the larger scheme of things.

There is a huge amount of energy, talent and drive here and while this is enough to carry most people through – especially if you like action – the overall creation lacks originality or something very distinctive – even though we have nothing but admiration for the fight scenes.

In the Western context ‘Monkey Man’ works – especially for audiences who enjoy action, violence and sweet revenge. But sophisticated (in terms of the story and screenplay put together with Paul Agunawela and John Collee), it is not. But for this genre is anyone that bothered?

Patel is a talented director, clearly.

Yet the beginning is too slight in characterisation and builds no real empathy – too much is flashback that comes in the second half and explains the demons at the heart of kid’s character.

It is slightly predictable and pedestrian on that level – Dhulipala is underused and simply decorative essentially; there is no romance to speak of – except a look here and there and the villains are all cardboard creations and slightly cliched: the corrupt violent cop, the flaky, venal godman, the politician who is close to both – this nexus is as old as the hills.

The battle-hardened hijras, the supped-up autorickshaw, and great tabla maestro Zakir Hussain (in a cameo) are there in the way that every tourist on their first trip to North India must visit the Taj Mahal and be captured as doing so.

We don’t want to be too critical, because this film still has a lot going for it – ie Patel and his ability to get the best out of himself and make the best film he can with the resources he had – as he has said and tells us in our Red Carpet interview – “everything that could have gone wrong, did…”.

We could have the birth of a director of power and artistry – there is enough here to justify the plaudits he has received – but to fulfil his ultimate potential – he should get away from the obvious and the formulaic.

This is still a film to be welcomed and supported – and if this effort falls slightly short in one department – ie the story, the rest of the film works and Patel has a bright future behind the camera as well continuing to grow as an action hero in front of it.

Acv rating: *** (out of five).

‘Monkey Man’ is out in cinemas worldwide from today (April 5).

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture