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‘Monkey Man’ review: Vengeance is his

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Thriller ‘Monkey Man’ opens with a tender scene and a nod to the power of storytelling, then quickly gets into the action movie business, with a flurry of hard punches and quicker edits . Over the next two frenetic hours, he repeatedly returns to the past – where a mother and child lived happily in bucolic times – before returning to the dirty and raw present. There, the successes follow one another and the hero repeats them, again and again, in a film which tries so hard to entertain you that it ends up exhausting you.

Set largely in a fictional town in India, “Monkey Man” stars Dev Patel as a character simply called Kid who, in classic adventure film fashion, seeks to avenge a wrong pass. To do this, Kid, who works as a human punching bag in dark ring fights (Sharlto Copley plays the MC), must endure repeated blows so that he can, like all Saviors, rise triumphantly. Before that, he must execute a complex plan that pits him against powerful men working on both sides of the law. Like most genre films, you can guess how this all plays out for our hero.

Kid’s half-baked plan involves an underground operation with national political goals, and it takes him to one of those dens of iniquity that the movies love, filled with slinky women, thug men, and lines of white powder that leads to the corridors of power. As the story becomes fuzzy, Patel gestures toward the real world and incorporates some mythology, but these elements only create expectations for a complex story that never emerges. What is most often felt is a general feeling of exploitation and despair: everyone is always pushing someone else around. This gives the film a defiant pessimism, which Patel seems eager to counter with flashbacks of Kid’s mother, Neela (Adithi Kalkunte), a saintly figure in sultry close-up.

Patel, who directed the film from a screenplay written by him, Paul Angunawela and John Collee, is an engaging screen presence and you root for him – both as a character and as a filmmaker – from the beginning. As an actor, he’s built for empathy, with a slender figure and melting eyes that he can expressively brighten or dim to create a sense of vulnerability. His performance in “Monkey Man” demands a lot from him below the neck – he’s sculpted his body into a stunt-ready shape, as demonstrated in a bit of striptease – but it’s his pleading eyes that draw you in towards him. This is especially crucial because, although this messy story is full of stuff – sad ladies, muscle men, brutal cops, exploited villagers, a false prophet and the Hindu god Hanuman, who appears as half-human, half- monkey – it never has any coherence.

Patel does a good job in “Monkey Man” even if his fight sequences rarely pop, flow or impress; they are energetic but uninspired. Much more striking is a long sequence at the beginning of the story that begins with a thief on a scooter robbing a woman in an outdoor cafe. The bandit walks away and then hands the stolen item to someone else who, as the camera rushes alongside each courier, quickly meanders through the streets before handing the stolen item to another person ( and so on) until the package finally lands at Kid’s. hands. It’s a witty, flashy piece that announces Patel’s cinematic ambitions and visually expresses how the story itself zigs and zags even as it moves forward.

This sequence – with its rush of bodies and sets – also encapsulates one of the film’s most frustrating flaws: its relentless, almost unmodulated narrative pace. For much of “Monkey Man,” it’s just Come on! Come on! Come on. Rapid editing is a feature, not a bug, in contemporary action films, but even John Wick takes an occasional break. (The “Wick” franchise has an obvious influence on “Monkey Man,” so much so that there’s even an adorable dog.) When Kid slows down halfway through, it’s only because the character needs to heal , to recalibrate your thinking and prepare for the final. confrontation, which he carries out in a temple watched over by a towering statue and a welcoming group of hijras, called India’s third gender.

It’s a shame Kid doesn’t stay longer at the temple, where the company is charming and includes one of those brimming with wisdom elders, Alpha (Vipin Sharma, a sly scene-stealer), who guides the heroes down the right path. At the temple, Kid practices the rhythm of a drummer in a nicely syncopated interlude that makes you wish the musician had been playing throughout the film to help with his rhythm.

All too soon, however, Kid flexes his rested muscles and resumes his quest, running while Patel retreats into flashbacks and waves vaguely at the world that exists. At this point, it’s clear that even if Patel wants to say something about this world, even if it’s unclear, his character would be happier delivering punches in this magical, mystical land where John Wick and others violent fantasies on screen live, fight and die in blissful unreality.

Monkey man
Rated R for, you know, violence. Duration: 2 hours 1 minute. In theaters.

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