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Review: Monkey Man

Dev Patel stars and makes his directorial debut in Monkey Man and while there’s some cool, bloody action, some pacing and stylistic decisions keep it from reaching the level of something like the John Wick movies.

Patel stars as Kid, whose mother and entire village were brutally massacred when he was a boy by a sinister spiritual guru and a corrupt police chief.  Now grown, Kid earns a living in Mumbai losing fights in a fight club, and plots his revenge against the men who wronged him.  He gets an opening when he works his way into getting a job at a high-end brothel/nightclub where his targets are known to frequent.  Some pacing and story issues make the movie feel longer than it is at times.  There are flashbacks to Kid’s village being massacred but you understand everything you need to know after the first flashback, so when it constantly returns to that scene, it kind of feels like filler.  On the flip side, there are some things, like a potential love interest between Kid and one of the high-end escorts, Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), that don’t go anywhere but has what seems like it should be an emotional payoff in the climactic action sequence.  There are probably at least 20 or 30 minutes that could be cut to make this a leaner and more tightly-paced action thriller.

The trailers for Monkey Man really sold it as a non-stop, John Wick-style action movie but definitely temper your expectations in that regard.  The final action sequence is pretty fantastic but there are long stretches with no action.  There’s also the extremely odd choice to return to the shaky cam style of action that John Wick seemingly ended and it’s particularly egregious in Monkey Man where there are times you have no idea what the hell you are supposed to be looking at or what is going on.  The movie would be much stronger and the action sequences much more thrilling and cool if they were more static and shot wider.

Patel does a great job in front of the camera, making Kid equally dangerous and sympathetic and carries the movie with his performance.  Sharlto Copley and Pitobash are fun in their small roles, playing sleazy but funny underworld characters.  As mentioned, Sobhita Dhulipala feels like she is going to have a bigger role as Kid’s potential love interest but they only have two, extremely brief scenes throughout the movie and she doesn’t really have anything else to do outside those scenes.  Sikandar Kher and Makarand Deshpande are solid villains and both of them do enough evil acts throughout to make their comeuppance feel satisfying.

Monkey Man has some cool, interesting parts but the pacing and, especially, the shaky cam way the action sequences are shot really hinder the experience and make it a disappointment.  I’m still interested in what Dev Patel does next, both acting and directing-wise and hopefully, he can work out the kinks and deliver a tighter second movie at some point.

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