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"Monkey Man" 4K Review

 When the trailer for Monkey Man dropped a few months ago, it caught everyone off guard because not only did it look like "Indian John Wick" but it was also produced, co-written and directed by star Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, the excellent but overlooked Lion). Also sporting a misleading "produced by Jordan Peele" credit (Peele championed the finished, but abandoned by original distributor Netflix, picture to be picked up by Universal, but had no input in its making; he should be an executive producer) there was great anticipation. However, when it actually came out, reviews were favorable, but mixed, and this is about to be another one of those.

Patel plays Kid, a struggling young man whose mother was killed when his village was destroyed on the orders of Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), a cult leader-tinged spirtual figure tied to a political party, who sent corrupt police chief Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) to do the deed. Kid is fighting in an underground boxing club run by Tiger (Sharlto Copley, District 9) where he's being encouraged to throw his matches. He wears a monkey mask which relates to an opening story about the Hindu god Hanuman his mother told him.

He learns Singh is a regular at a luxury club/brothel called Kings operated by Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar), a cruel piece of work. After a ridiculously complex pickpocketing scheme puts her wallet in Kid's hands, he returns it to her at her office and begs for any job he could have. She reluctantly hires him as a dishwasher and uses that toe in the door to sidle up to Alphonso (Pitobash), the diminutive gopher who supplies the drugs, etc. for clubgoers and soon is working the VIP floor where Singh and other power players partake in hookers and blow.

 Eventually, he creates an opportunity to kill Singh and finds wanting revenge is a lot harder than exacting revenge. Barely escaping with his life and freedom, he is taken in by a commune of hijra - enuchs, transgender, and intersex people - led by Alpha (Vipin Sharma) who helps Kid recuperate and train for one last assault on Kings (sort of literally).

To audiences outside the territory where a movie is set, political allegories can sail over the heads of viewers. Done properly, as with District 9, it doesn't matter though to people who do catch the references it provides an extra layer of nuance. With Alphonso Cuoron's Roma, the peripheral story of Mexican civil war in the 1960s didn't click. Apparently there is some serious debate about how Patel references India's political terrain and a rising Hindu nationalist movement, but since no attempt to explain it to non-Indians is made, it's just generic bad guy stuff with a curry flavor.

With the political and spiritual stuff just kind of being there, it makes the movie feel sluggish from the parts that anyone can appreciate, the badass fight scenes. As a basic revenge story, the story is really basic with no depth to the villains beyond "You killed my mother!" but Patel has an action director's eye that is remarkably sophisticated in contrasting the way the ultra-wealthy and slum dwellers coexist in very close proximity in the fictionalized version of Mumbai called Yatana. The pickpocket scene is a true Rube Goldberg construct where the wallet changes hands many, many times before ending up in Kid's hands as we see it chasing through the cramped neighborhoods. The fight scenes are equally well-done with some seriously gnarly kills which would make John Wick go "Whoa."

While Monkey Man doesn't quite deliver on its trailer's promise of straight up revenge kill action, it's still an impressive debut from Patel that with some judicious editing would've landed more of a punch.

From a technical standpoint, the 4K HDR presentation offers solid rich colors that convey the stylized cinematography by Sharone Meir (Whiplash) with deep reds, blues and golds. Sound is appropriately bass-heavy to give the punches heft.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.


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