Review: ‘Everything Under Control,’ starring Hins Cheung, Ivana Wong, Jeffrey Ngai Tsun Sang, Michael Ning and Kaho Hing

January 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hins Cheung, Michael Ning and Jeffrey Ngai Tsun Sang in “Everything Under Control” (Photo courtesy of Trinity Filmed Entertainment)

“Everything Under Control”

Directed by Ying Chi-Wen

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the action comedy film “Everything Under Control,” a remake of the 2004 South Korean horror comedy “To Catch a Virgin Ghost,” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: After a jewelry heist goes wrong, two armed guards and a robber go to a remote jungle to find the armed guard who stole the jewelry, and they all encounter a strange commune that appears to be protected by a ghost.

Culture Audience: “Everything Under Control” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “To Catch a Virgin Ghost” and action movies that have a lot of moronic comedy that just isn’t funny.

Ivana Wong in “Everything Under Control” (Photo courtesy of Trinity Filmed Entertainment)

“Everything Under Control” squanders the potential to be an entertaining and zany heist film, by overloading on repetitive gimmick jokes, tacky visual effects, and nonsensical, time-wasting scenes that lower the quality of this already bad movie. The cast members try too hard to funny, giving “Everything Under Control” a forced and awkward tone. The movie also goes off on some bizarre tangents that don’t fit the intended comedy at all.

Directed by Ying Chi-Wen, “Everything Under Control” (which takes place in Hong Kong) is a remake of the 2004 South Korean horror comedy “To Catch a Virgin Ghost,” which had another remake with the 2021 Taiwanese film “Trick or Treat.” “Everything Under Control” is much more of an action film than a horror movie, since there’s nothing remotely scary about “Everything Under Control,” unless you think it’s scary that people actually thought this awful movie was worth getting made.

“Everything Under Control” begins by showing a group of employees who work for a company called So Good Security, whose specialty is armored vehicle transportation. The company’s drivers (who are all men in their 20s and 30s) look up to the “alpha male” of the group: Yau Shing (played by Hins Cheung), who is a cocky and rebellious guy. Yau Shing has been tasked with training a rookie named Penguin (played by Jeffrey Nagai Tsun Sang), who is very nervous and insecure.

One day, a group of So Good Security employees are driving in an armored van for a delivery of valuable diamonds. In the vehicle are Yau Shing, Penguin, an awkward misfit named Jelly (played by Kaho Hung) and a loudmouth named Pig Blood (played by Hou Dee). During this ride, Yau Shing brags that he’s “seen it all” in this security job, except that he’s never experienced a robbery.

As soon as Yau Shing says that, you just know a robbery is going to happen. The leader of the armed robbers is an ill-tempered buffoon named Monk (played by Michael Ning), who isn’t as tough as he’d like to think he is. The real menacing thug in this gang of thieves is Monk’s boss Mr. Lai (played by Juno Mak), who is sadistic and ruthless. Mr. Lai isn’t actually at the scene of the robbery, by he’s the mastermind behind this heist.

A chaotic shootout occurs during the robbery. Jelly tries to be a flashy hero by spinning around a shotgun, but the shotgun ends up landing on his head. It’s enough to knock him temporarily unconscious. The robbers are so inept, they don’t notice until it’s too late that they don’t have any of the diamonds. Jelly has suddenly disappeared, so Yau Shing, Penguin, Pig Blood are kidnapped by the robbers and taken to the back of a butcher shop, where Mr. Lai orders that these captives undergo water torture to try to force them to tell the robbers where the diamonds are.

What happened to the diamonds? Jelly stole the diamonds. When it becomes obvious that Yau Shing, Penguin, Pig Blood don’t have the diamonds, and Jelly stole these jewels, Mr. Lai decides that Monk will accompany Yau Shing and Penguin to look for Jelly. Pig Blood is left behind in the butcher shop and will experience more torture unless Yau Shing and Penguin can find Jelly and the diamonds.

During his getaway, Jelly accidentally crashes his car in a remote jungle area. He makes his way through the jungle and finds a weird commune of five people (two women and three men), who have rituals that look very much like these commune members are in a cult. The group’s domineering leader is Wong Cool (played by Ivana Wong), who tells Jelly that the group doesn’t want to help him because they don’t trust outsiders.

While Jelly is using a toilet on the commune’s premises , he makes the mistake of leaving his phone outside with the commune members. When the phone rings, one of the commune members answers it and finds out that it’s a very agitated Yau Shing looking for Jelly and the diamonds. The commune now knows that Jelly wants to go into hiding, so they hold him captive.

Monk, Yau Shing and Penguin somehow find out that Jelly is in this wooded area and go looking for him. The rest of “Everything Under Control” involves a battle between the commune members and this search party. There’s also a very mishandled subplot involving a young woman ghost named Chi (played by Suey Kwok), who appears to be haunting the commune’s property and scaring off unwanted visitors. An artist painter named Poussin (played by Angus Yeung) offers some clues about the mystery behind the ghost.

“Everything Under Control” has some gross-out comedy involving defecation and farting that is so unnecessary, it’s really pathetic. It’s the type of slapstick set-up that looks like it came from the mind of a 10-year-old child. All of the movie’s characters are hollow—either too ridiculous to be relatable or too generic to be interesting. The title “Everything Under Control” is a contradiction of this mess of a movie, which is an example of filmmakers who let a potentially hilarious action flick descend into mindless chaos.

Trinity Filmed Entertainment released “Everything Under Control” in select U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on January 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Kuttey,’ starring Naseeruddin Shah, Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Radhika Madan and Shardul Bhardwaj

January 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kumud Mishra and Arjun Kapoor in “Kuttey” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Kuttey”

Directed by Aasmaan Bhardwaj

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India’s Mumbai area in October and November 2016, the action film “Kuttey” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some black people and white people) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Various criminals compete to rob an armored van with loads of cash, and a corrupt cop thinks he can outsmart them all. 

Culture Audience: “Kuttey” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent action films that don’t look believable.

Shardul Bhardwaj and Radhika Madan in “Kuttey” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Kuttey” wants to be a complex story about a corrupt police officer, but it tries to do too much with a silly plot that gets more ridiculous as it goes along. The movie’s film editing is also very sloppy, with repeated mishandling of flashback scenes. The back-and-forth timeline jumping just makes “Kuttey” look even more confused than it needs to be, considering that the story would already be a mess without the flashbacks.

Written and directed by Aasmaan Bhardwaj, “Kuttey” (which means “dogs” in Hindi) is essentially about some factions of criminals in the Mumbai area of India who are in a battle to steal money from an armored van that has a small fortune in cash. The story, which takes place in October and November 2016, is told in a jumbled manner, with various flashbacks showing how these criminals reached this point in trying to rob the same van. And (cliché alert) there’s someone in these gangs of thieves who thinks he’s the smartest and toughest of them all.

This self-appointed “alpha male” is Gopal Tiwari (played by Arjun Kapoor), a corrupt police officer who is married with a young daughter. Gopal wants the money so that he and his family can have a life of luxury. Gopal’s cop partner Paaji (played by Kumud Mishra), who is also in on this heist plot, wants the money so that he can pay off his debts. Gopal and Paaji work as undercover cops.

At first, Gopal and Paaji try to get money by offering to be hit men for a drug-smuggling crime lord named Narayan Khobre (played by Naseeruddin Shah), who wants them to assassinate someone in the drug-smuggling ring who’s suspected of betrayal. It’s just an excuse for the movie to have a nonsensical shootout at a pool party, where Gopal and Paaji massacre several innocent people. (Some of this scene is shown in the “Kuttey” trailer.)

Gopal and Paaji get suspended from the police force and become even more desperate for money. They have a jaded cop friend named Pammi Sandhu (played by Tabu), who introduces them to her friend Harry (played by Ashish Vidyarthi), a driver for the armored van carrying the cash. Harry foolishly tells Gopal and Paaji how much cash is in the van. And you know what that means. The trailer for “Kuttey” already reveals that Pammi ends up trying to rob the van too.

Two other people who want to rob the van are Lovely Khobre (played by Radhika Madan) and her boyfriend Danny Dandekar (played by Shardul Bhardwaj), who want to act like they’re trying to be in a “Bonnie and Clyde” movie, but they really act more like “Dumb and Dumber.” Lovely is the spoiled, loose-cannon daughter of crime lord Narayan. Danny is a dimwitted son of a builder, and he has a caste/social-class inferiority complex about it because Lovely grew up pampered and privileged. Lovely wants to run far away from her domineering father, which is why she and Danny want the money so they can move to another country, possibly Canada.

Showing up in the last third of the movie is Lakshmi Sharma (played by Konkona Sen Sharma), the leader of a guerilla gang that’s also after the money from the armored van. Lakshmi is a completely one-dimensional character who doesn’t have a single thing to say that’s interesting or memorable. The same goes for the people in her gang. Lakshmi and her gang didn’t really need to be in the movie at all.

“Kuttey” is one of those action flicks with ludicrous shootouts and other fight scenes, where the main character gets cornered and outnumbered more than once and could easily be murdered, but he always manages to escape. And it’s also one of those movies where someone looks like they died a brutal and bloody death. But surprise! That person really isn’t dead. The possible double-crosses and other treachery in “Kuttey” don’t mean much when all of the criminal characters are despicable.

Making things worse, the dialogue in “Kuttey” is relentlessly idiotic. The movie is cluttered with unnecessary scenes that stretch out the already very thin plot for “Kuttey.” The cast members’ acting look like they don’t care much because they know they’re in a stupid movie. Considering all the better heist movies that exist, “Kuttey” is just mindless mush that’s easily forgotten soon after people waste time watching it.

Yash Raj Films released “Kuttey” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on January 13, 2023.

Review: ‘Plane,’ starring Gerard Butler and Mike Colter

January 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in “Plane” (Photo by Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate)

“Plane”

Directed by Jean-François Richet

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and briefly in Singapore and New York City, the action film “Plane” features a white and Asian cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish-born airplane pilot working for a commercial American airline company leads a rescue mission after a plane that he is piloting makes an emergency landing in a remote jungle in the Philippines, and the survivors are held hostage by a gang of terrorists.

Culture Audience: “Plane” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Gerard Butler and well-paced action movies about heroic rescue missions.

Daniella Pineda, Gerard Butler and Yoson An in “Plane” (Photo by Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate)

As a semi-realistic action movie, “Plane” delivers exactly what it’s supposed to be: pure escapist entertainment full of gripping suspense. The movie has a few twists that don’t make the story as predictable as it could have been. “Plane” isn’t pretending to be award-worthy art, so viewers shouldn’t have those expectations at all.

Directed by Jean-François Richet, “Plane” (whose screenplay was written by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis) has a somewhat misleading title because most of the action does not take place on a plane. The first third of the movie is about a commercial plane having to make an emergency landing in a remote jungle of the Philippines, due to an electrical malfunction and lightning striking the plane. The rest of the film is about what happens when the surviving passengers and crew members are stranded in the jungle and targeted by a gang of terrorists.

“Plane” begins by showing this ill-fated flight and who is on board for this trip. The fictional airplane company Trailblazer (which is based in New York City) is operating Flight 119, which is going from Singapore, with a planned layover in Tokyo, and then on to Hawaii. (“Plane” was actually filmed in Puerto Rico.) The captain of this flight is Brodie Torrance (played by Gerard Butler), a native of Scotland who has experience flying for the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom. Brodie is a widower (his wife died three years ago) who lives in Hawaii. He has a daughter named Daniela (played by Haleigh Hekking), who is in her late teens.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and there are only 14 passengers on this flight. The co-pilot is Samuel Dele (played by Yoson An), who is originally from Hong Kong. Samuel is happily married with two pre-teen daughters. The three flight attendants on this trip are Bonnie Lane (played by Daniella Pineda), Maria Falco (played by Amber Rivera) and Isabella Yu (played by Michelle Lee), with Bonnie as the flight attendant who has the most obvious leadership qualities.

Not long before the flight is scheduled to leave, Brodie is informed by the FBI that an agent named Shellback (played by Remi Adeleke) will be boarding with a recently arrested fugitive who was found in Singapore, after the fugitive evaded capture for 15 years. This fugitive, whose name is Louis Gaspare (played by Mike Colter), is an American who is wanted for murder. Louis is brought on board in handcuffs, but Brodie thinks it’s best if the rest of the flight’s crew members do not know the details of why Louis is handcuffed.

Shellback and Louis are seated in the very last row of the plane. The other passengers are scattered in various other seats. Many of these passengers are not given enough screen time or dialogue to have distinguishable personalities. But other passengers stand out and affect certain parts of the story.

Matt Sinclair (played by Joey Slotnick) is an impatient and demanding American in his 50s. Maxwell Carver (played by Oliver Trevena) is a talkative and inquisitive Brit in his 30s. Two women in their 20s are friends and travel companions: Brie (played by Lily Krug) is American, and Katie (played by Kelly Gale) is Swedish. Katie and Brie are both giggly and excited to be on this trip.

While boarding the plane, one of the passengers notices that the plane is an old model and makes a comment about it to Brodie. In a defensive but pleasant tone, Brodie says, “These planes are indestructible.” And when someone in an airplane disaster action movie brags about the plane being indestructible, you know what that means: The plane is going to malfunction.

Even before this happens, there’s tension on the plane because a few of the passengers have noticed that Louis came on board in handcuffs. Brie and Katie were originally assigned to sit in the seats now occupied by Louis and Shellback, but Bonnie discreetly tells Brie and Katie that they have to move a few rows up. When Brie and Katie are seated, they start to take a selfie photo.

However, Louis gets very agitated at the thought of being in the background of their photo, and he barks at them when they’re about to take the picture: “Can you not do that?” Later in the movie, when Maxwell starts making a video recording with his own phone, Louis has an even angrier and more extreme reaction. How much of a loose cannon is Louis? And can he be trusted?

It’s already shown in the “Plane” trailer and other marketing materials that Louis is eventually taken out of his handcuffs to help Brodie in the jungle when the surviving people on the plane come under attack by the gang of terrorists. (Brodie is the one who makes this decision to uncuff Louis.) The leader of the terrorist gang is a ruthless thug named Junmar (played by Evan Dane Taylor), who wants to hold these survivors hostage for big ransom money. It’s something that the gang has done before when visitors have the misfortune of getting stranded in this jungle.

Meanwhile, back at Trailblazer headquarters in New York City, company officials are frantically trying to locate the plane and its occupants, since the plane has dropped off the radar and is considered missing. Trailblazer chief executive Scarsdale (played by Tony Goldwyn) is leading the search-and-rescue efforts. It’s explained in the movie that the Philippines government won’t get involved because the jungle is in a part of the country overrun with terrorists that the Philippines government has given up trying to control. Therefore, Scarsdale makes the decision to hire a private group of mercenaries to help.

“Plane” has some adrenaline-packed action scenes that go in some unexpected directions, while some of the “shoot ’em up” scenes come very close to looking like generic video-game combat. However, the dynamics between Brodie and Louis make “Plane” a little more interesting than the average action flick. There’s nothing particularly special about any of the acting in the film, but no one is outright horrible either. “Plane” is an overall satisfying and serviceable thriller for anyone seeking this type of entertainment.

Lionsgate released “Plane” in U.S. cinemas on January 13, 2023.

Review: ‘An Action Hero,’ starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Jaideep Ahlawat

January 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jaideep Ahlawat and Ayushmann Khurrana in “An Action Hero” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“An Action Hero”

Directed by Anirudh Iyer

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and the United Kingdom, the action comedy film “An Action Hero” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A famous action movie star goes on the run after he accidentally kills a corrupt politician, and the dead man’s brother goes after the movie star for revenge. 

Culture Audience: “An Action Hero” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching action movies that make up for their simple plots with plenty of high-octane thrills and satirical comedy.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Jaideep Ahlawat in “An Action Hero” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“An Action Hero” is a completely predictable chase movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It manages to be entertaining because of its cheeky comedy, thrilling action and satirical take on celebrity worship of movie stars. Many of the stunts in “An Action Hero” are very over the top, which will either amuse or annoy viewers.

Directed by Anirudh Iyer and written by Neeraj Yadav, “An Action Hero” takes place in India and the United Kingdom in a non-stop action-adventure that tells the story of an international hunt for a movie star suspected of murder. The movie begins in India, where action movie star Maanav Khuranna (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) is being interrogated about his connection to the death of Vicky Solanki (played by Sumit Singh), a corrupt politician from Mandothi, India. The movie then switches flashbacks to show whot Maanav ended up in this predicament.

At the time of Vicky’s death, he was in the midst of contesting election results showing that he has lost his most recent election. Vicky was seeking out Maanav to get Maanav to give Vicky a personal endorsement, in order to use Maanav’s star power to possibly sway the results of the election. Vicky was also star-struck and desperately wanted a photo with Maanav. Maanav doesn’t want to get involved in politics, so he was actively avoiding Vicky, who went as far as showing up uninvited on the set of one of Maanav’s movies in Mandothi, and interrupting Vicky’s work.

One day, Maanav gets a new Ford Mustang as a gift. He’s eager to take his new car out for an evening drive. During this drive, Maanav notices that Vicky is following him on a deserted road. Vicky forces Maanav stop the car. The two men have a heated argument, which results in a physical brawl, where Maanav pushes Vicky back in self-defense. Vicky falls down, hits his head on rock, and dies instantly.

In a panic, Maanav quickly drives away, not noticing that one of his car’s side mirrors (which got broken off during the fight) has been left behind at the scene. Vicky is reported missing by his worried older brother Bhoora Solanki (played by Jaideep Ahlawat), a Mandothi municipal councilor. Bhoora tells investigators that Vicky had gone to meet Maanav.

Led by an inspector named Roop Kumar (played by Jitender Hooda), the local police arrive at the scene and find Vicky’s dead body. They also find the broken side mirror nearby. It doesn’t take long for the investigators to find out that Maanav is the new owner of a black Ford Mustang that has the exact same type of side mirror. Maanav has now become a person of interest in Vicky’s death and he is sought for questioning.

An enraged Bhoora is convinced that Maanav murdered Vicky. And so, Bhoora vows to get revenge by hunting down Maanav and killing him. Inspector Kumar is also leading a search to find Maanav, but Bhoora thinks the police are buffoons, and Bhoora wants to get his own brand of justice. Bhoora often berates Inspector Kumar, and he wages a public campaign to ruin Maanav’s reputation. The media has now branded Maanav as the chief suspect in Vicky’s death.

Maanav has fled Mandothi by taking a plane to Mumbai. While on the plane, there’s a satirical moment when Maanav meets real-life movie star Akshay Kumar, in a cameo as a version of himself. Akshay tells Maanav: “You’re going to win an Oscar for India some day.” Maanav confides in Akshay about why he suddenly left town. Akshay advises him: “I know from experience. Don’t tell anyone.”

After Maanav lands in Mumbai, he then takes another plane to London, where he hears on the news that police in India are looking for him. And, of course, Bhoora is hot on Maanav’s trail too. Most of the fight scenes in the movie (as already revealed in the trailer) involves Maanav’s conflicts with Bhoora, who has a group of thugs who are helping Bhoora.

Maanav also gets some help to evade the people who are after him. In London, Maanav gets assistance from his attorney Vishwas Patel (played by Siddharth Amar), who tell Maanav to lay low until they can figure out a way the best way for him to return to India to answer questions from authorities. Maanav also has a goofy personal assistant named Guddu (played by Pankaj Mathur), communicates with Maanav mainly by phone while Maanav has gone into hiding.

Maanav has a house in London, but it should come as no surprise that Maanav finds out that he isn’t going to be safe at his London home. The rest of “An Action Hero” involves Maanav getting mixed up with more shady characters, including Kaadir (played by Vaquar Shaikh), a notorious “fixer” for gangster Masood Abraham Katkar (played by Gautam Joglekar), who has a grudge against Maanav because Maanav did a TV interview saying that underworld gangsters are “irrelevant.” Maanav also enlists the help of two computer hackers: Sai (played by Neeraj Madhav) and Li Xian (played by Elton Tan), who might or might not be of any real help.

In between all the mayhem, the movie has a few musical numbers that poke fun at Bollywood action movies that force out-of-place song-and-dance numbers into action movies. In these sequences, Maanav sees himself as a hero who’s irresistible to women. Malaika Arora portrays Manaav’s leading lady for the song “Aap Jaisa Koi.” Nora Fatehi is Manaav’s leading lady for the song “Jehda Nasha.” Maanav is too busy trying not to get killed to really have a love interest in this story.

As the action here on the run, Khuranna carries the movie quite well, considering he has to portray a movie star whose action skills that he learned in movies are put to the test his “real life.” “An Action Hero” constantly lampoons Maanav’s “worth” as an action star, because on how well he can get himself out of predicaments. Don’t expect this movie to have complete realism, since much of it is quite cartoonish in how Maanav and the rest of the characters are portrayed.

“An Action Hero” is by no means an intellectual movie, but the movie is effective in poking fun at the media’s role in hyping celebrities while also seeking to “cancel” celebrities by always looking for celebrity scandals, only to try to build back up disgraced celebrities who are deemed worthy of making a comeback. The movie takes a sarcastic view of all the sensationalist, tabloid tactics that have become commonplace in mainstream media. These sardonic observations make “An Action Hero” slightly better than the usual formulaic action flick.

AA Films released “An Action Hero” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 2, 2022.

Review: ‘Laththi,’ starring Vishal

December 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Master Lirish Raghav and Vishal in “Laththi” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Laththi”

Directed by A. Vinoth Kumar

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in India, the action film “Laththi” features an Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A cop battles an army of villains and ends up trapped with his 10-year-old son in a high-rise building under construction.

Culture Audience: “Laththi” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a ludicrous, overly long action movie that is repetitive and relentlessly stupid.

Ramana (second from left) in “Laththi” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Laththi” is nothing but a long-winded rehash of several other forgettable action movies with ridiculous fight scenes, terrible acting and no originality. And with a total running time of 144 minutes, “Laththi” (also known as “Laththi Charge”) drags on for too long, considering the movie’s very thin plot that could easily fit into a film that’s 30 minutes or less. What viewers get in “Laththi” is a bombastic overload of poorly staged action scenes that are supposed to show gritty realism but look like something out of a hard-to-believe, shoddy fantasy movie. Worst of all, “Laththi” is a movie that takes itself too seriously, considering how trashy and moronic it is.

Directed by A. Vinoth Kumar and written by Pon Parthiban, “Laththi” is yet another movie about a cop being the lone fighter against an army of villains who have him trapped somewhere. And to raise the stakes for the police officer—cliché alert—he has a loved one who is put in this dangerous situation too. Before “Laththi” gets to that point, there’s a bloated section of the movie that shows how he ended up in this mess. None of the characters in the movie has a real personality, and there’s no real suspense.

The protagonist of “Laththi” (which takes in an unnamed city in India) is a constable named Muruganantham (played by Vishal), who is as generic as generic can be. Muruganantham has a happy family life with his wife Kavitha (played by Sunaina) and their 10-year-old son Rasu (played by Master Lirish Raghav), who goes to a school called St. Michael’s Academy. Rasu is proud of his father being a constable, and he begs Muruganantham to visit him in school while wearing his constable uniform. Muruganantham humbly puts off accommodating this request.

One night, a woman named Pavithra (played by Misha Ghoshal) is physically harassed on the street by a young man. She goes to the police station to file a harassment complaint. Even though Muruganantham tells Pavithra that technically, she has to wait until the morning to file the complaint, he feels sympathy for her and lets her file the complaint that night. Not long after filing the complaint, Pavitrha is viciously attacked, and she dies in a hospital.

The public is outraged by what happened to Pavithra, and protests are staged outside the police station. The police are under pressure to find the culprit or culprits who killed Pavithra. Their chief suspect is the man whom she identified as the harasser in her complaint. His name is Vellai (played by by Ramana), who happens to be the son of a ruthless and wealthy crime boss named Sura (played by Sunny PN).

Vellai is taken into custody at the police station for an interrogation, where he ends up alone in a room with Muruganantham. Vellai’s head has been covered with a sack, so Vellai can’t see anything. Muruganantham brutally beats up Vellai to try to get Vellai to confess to causing Pavithra’s death. Vellai doesn’t see the police officer who’s attacking him, but Muruganantham gets a phone call during this beatdown. The ringtone on Muruganantham’s phone is of the song “Guna,” which is a detail that Vellai does not forget.

Vellai ends up in a hospital and inexplicably has a yellow plastic bag over his face during his recovery. Apparently, the “Laththi” filmmakers want viewers to think that using a yellow plastic bag is better than using bandages to treat facial wounds. While in the hospital, there’s a predictable scene of an infuriated Sura and his cronies trying to get Vellai to remember anything about the cop who attacked him. Vellai is barely coherent, much like most of this movie.

After Vellai is discharged from the hospital, there are scenes where he drives around with his fellow thugs while trying to look for the cop who beat him up. And Vellai is stll wearing that yellow plastic bag over his head during the search. Meanwhile, Muruganantham gets suspended from his job and is then reinstated in a demoted position of being a traffic cop.

During Vellai’s search for the constable who beat him up, Vellai—still wearing the yellow plastic bag over his head—sees Muruganantham on a motorbike on the road. Vellai insists that Muruganantham is the one who attacked him, even though people in his entourage doubt that this traffic cop would be the one to have the authority to do an interrogation. And just when Vellai and his cronies are about to drive away, during an idiotic scene where Muruganantham has stopped on his motorbike on the road for a very contrived period of time, Muruganantham gets a phone call, and Vellai hears the ringtone.

Most of the action scenes featured in the trailer for “Laththi” don’t happen until the last third of the movie, when Muruganantham is trapped with Rasu in an isolated high-rise building that’s under construction. It’s just scene after scene of Muruganantham unrealistically taking on numerous armed thugs who could easily kill him when they surround him with their weapons, but they don’t kill him, because we all know how this movie is going to end. The only thing that gets really gets killed from “Laththi” are some of the brain cells of any viewers who have the misfortune of watching all of this mind-numbing garbage.

Red Giant Movies released “Laththi” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 22, 2022.

Review: ‘HIT: The 2nd Case,’ starring Adivi Sesh and Meenakshi Chaudhary

December 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Adivi Sesh in “HIT: The 2nd Case” (Photo courtesy of Wall Poster Cinema)

“HIT: The 2nd Case”

Directed by Sailesh Kolanu

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Visakhapatnam, India, the action film “HIT: The 2nd Case” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A self-assured police detective goes on the hunt for a serial killer, who murders women and who leaves their body parts at the crime scenes were his other murder victims are found. 

Culture Audience: “HIT: The 2nd Case” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “HIT: The First Case” and suspenseful movies about police investigations of serial killings.

Adivi Sesh and Meenakshi Chaudhary in “HIT: The 2nd Case” (Photo courtesy of Wall Poster Cinema)

“HIT: The 2nd Case” is a captivating thriller from beginning to end. It’s a winning example of a sequel that’s better than the original movie. The story’s mystery is wider in scope and told in a more compelling way than in “HIT: The First Case,” a movie originally released in 2020 as a Telugu-language film, and then remade as a Hindi-language film released in 2022. It’s also a great idea to make each “HIT” movie with a different detective protagonist.

“HIT” movie series creator Sailesh Kolanu has written and directed all the “HIT” movies so far. “HIT: The First Case” ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger for the movie’s protagonist, police inspector Vikram Rudraraju. “Vikram: The 2nd Case” has a brief mention of what happened to Vikram, but otherwise, it’s a completely separate story. What each “HIT” movie has common so far is that it’s a story about a hotshot investigator in a police department called Homicide Intervention Team (HIT) located somewhere in India.

“HIT: The 2nd Case” follows police inspector Krishna “KD” Dev (played by Adivi Sesh), as he investigates the case of a twisted serial killer who dismembers his victims and leaves their various body parts at the crime scene where the killer’s other victims have been found. All of the victims are women n their 20s and 30s. The first known victim is a woman in her 20s named Sanjana, whose torso has been found in Visakhapatnam, India. KD makes a promise to Sanjana’s devastated, widowed father (played by Tanikella Bharani) that he will find the killer and make sure that there is justice for Sanjana.

In “HIT: The First Case,” police protagonist Vikram had post-traumatic stress disorder. In “HIT: The 2nd Case,” KD doesn’t have any psychiatric issues that affect how he does his job. However, KD’s biggest weakness is his arrogance. Early on in the movie, KD tells a group of reporters who ask for his comments about an unrelated case where KD captured a man who killed his own brother: “Generally, these criminals are very dumb.” It’s a comment that will come back to haunt him when the serial killer does things to outsmart KD.

KD’s cockiness also shows in how unkind he is to one his female colleagues. His ex-girlfriend Varsha (played by Komalee Prasad) has been appointed as one of his subordinates. He tells Varsha: “Seeing your face is very annoying to me.” The movie never really goes into details over why Varsha and KD broke up, but it was a romance that obviously did not end well. KD is very unhappy that Varsha has been assigned to help him with this serial killer case. KD also has his trusty police dog, a German Shepherd named Max, who is a constant companion when KD is on duty.

Whatever negative feelings that KD has toward Varsha, they are in direct contrast to his adoration of his girlfriend Aarya (played by Meenakshi Chaudhary), who is a confident and independent feminist who also expects chivalry from men. When KD asks Aarya to move in with him, she’s reluctant at first because she doesn’t want to give up having her own place. But she eventually changes her mind, because she and KD are in love with each other and want to build a life together.

Aarya works at female empowerment center called HER Welfare Association, which helps female victims of domestic violence, and offers other female-oriented services. A flashback scene in the beginning of the movie shows how, 20 years earlier, women from HER Welfare Association staged protests in support of a woman named Jhansi (played by Neela Ramana), who accused her husband Ram Prasad Koduri (played by Harsha Vardhan) of raping her, after he caught her cheating on him with another man. The HER Welfare Association plays a prominent role in the story.

Other characters who are connected to this story include KD’s female police sidekick Shradda (played by Pavani, also known as Pavani Reddy); Sanjana’s roommate Rajitha (played by Divya Narni); Rajitha’s boyfriend Kumar (played by Suhas); Sanjana’s childhood friend Raghavudu (played by Majili Shiva); KD’s police colleague Abilash (played by Maganti Srinath), nicknamed Abi; KD’s immediate supervisor Shinde (played by Brahmaji); and director of general police Nageswara Rao (played by Rao Ramesh).

Describing the rest of “HIT: The 2nd Case” would be giving away too much spoiler information. It’s enough to say that the movie is a non-stop ride of suspense and intrigue, with all of the actors playing their roles very well. The movie’s big showdown scene comes across as a little too contrived, but it’s still packed with a lot of tension. Mostly, “HIT: The 2nd Case” succeeds in how this investigation unfolds in a riveting way and how solving this mystery has a few fascinating surprises.

Wall Poster Cinema released “HIT: The 2nd Case” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 2, 2022.

Review: ‘HIT: The First Case’ (2022), starring Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra and Akhil Iyer

December 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rajkummar Rao and Akhil Iyer in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” (2022)

Directed by Sailesh Kolanu

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed area of India, the Hindi-language action film “HIT: The First Case” (a remake of the Telugu-language movie of the same name) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 32-year-old police detective, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, investigates the disappearances of two young women, one of whom is his girlfriend/colleague. 

Culture Audience: “HIT: The First Case” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of suspenseful and action-filled mystery thrillers that have unexpected plot twists.

Rajkummar Rao and Sanya Malhotra in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” sometimes gets distracted by sappy romantic scenes shown in slow-motion, but it’s an otherwise thrilling, action-packed mystery that will keep viewers guessing. The intriguing plot twists make up for some of the movie’s flaws. This movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it should satisfy people who like stories about realistically imperfect detectives and challenging crime cases. “HIT: The First Case” handles the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder in a way that’s sometimes overly dramatic but it’s never disrespectful or pitying.

Written and directed by Sailesh Kolanu, “HIT: The First Case” is a Hindi-language remake of Kolanu’s 2020 Telugu-language movie of the same name. The remake stays faithful to the same story, but the Hindi-language version of “Hit: The First Case” has action that’s a little more intense and brutal than the Telugu-language version. The action is staged in a fairly standard way. What makes the movie worth watching is getting the bottom of the mystery, which has some intriguing twists and turns.

In “HIT: The First Case,” Vikram “Vicky” Jaisingh (played by Rajkummar Rao) is a 32-year-old police inspector in unnamed part of India. Vikram works in the department called Homicide Intervention Team (HIT), where he has earned a reputation as an excellent detective who has an ability to solve cases quicker than the average investigator. However, Vikram has recently been diagnosed with having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stemming from an incident where he couldn’t prevent a woman from being tortured.

The movie opens with Vikram having a nightmare about this incident. He is in therapy for his PTSD, but he doesn’t follow his psychiatrist’s advice to take medication for PTSD. His psychiatrist also says that because Vikram is having panic attacks, Vikra should quit his job. He also chooses not to heed this advice.

Vikram has a kind and loving girlfriend named Dr. Neha Mehta (played by Sanya Malhotra), who just happens to be a work colleague. Neha is a scientist who works in forensics lab that the police department uses. Vikram’s closest friend at work is his cop partner Rohit Shukla (played by Akhil Iyer), who is happily married to his wife Sapna (played by Nuveksha). Rohit, who is about the same age as Vikram, has no kids with Sapna.

Three other members of HIT are prominent parts of the story: Ajit Singh Shekhawat (played by Dalip Tahil) is the no-nonsense supervisor of Vikram and Rohit. Ibrahim Sheikh (played by Milind Gunaji) is a sub inspector whose quick temper sometimes gets him in trouble. Akshay (played by Jatin Goswami) is an inspector who is a jealous rival of Vikram’s and who seizes any opportunity to try to look better than Vikram.

Vikram and Neha have hit a rough patch in their relationship. Neha believes that because of his PTSD, Vikram should quit police work. She even goes as far to say that she will go to the police department and declare him unfit for his job. They bitterly argue about it. Vikram shouts during their argument: “You’re trying to blackmail me!” Rohit and Sapna are in the room during this argument, and Vikram get angry at them too because he thinks these two spouses are siding with Neha.

Vikram will soon be consumed by an investigation that tests everything he is as a police detective and as a human being. An 18-year-old woman named Preeti Mathur (played by Rose Khan) has been reported missing by her worried parents Mohan Mathur (played by Hemraj Tiwari) and Laxmi Mathur (played by Shikha Pareek), who are adamant that Preeti did not disappear voluntarily. All her parents know is that Preeti was stranded on a highway becaue her car was stalled, and she called Mohan to pick her up.

When Mohan arrived where Preeti said she was, Preeti’s car was there, but she was not. At the beginning of the investigation, the last known person to see Preeti alive was Ibrahim, who was on duty when he saw that Preeti was having car trouble, and he stopped to help. Ibrahim offered to give her a ride, but Preeti declined and instead asked to use Ibrahim’s phone to call her father, since she sad she left her own phone at home.

Ibrahim says that he saw Preeti call her father, and the last time he saw her, she got into a blue car that picked her up on the freeway, but he was too far away to see who the driver was. Ibrahim assumed at the time that Preeti’s father Mohan was the driver of the car and didn’t think anything more of it until Preeti was reported missing. Mohan says that he doesn’t have a blue car and that Preeti was nowhere to be found on the highway or anywhere else that her parents searched for her.

Because Ibrahim was the last known person to see Preeti alive, he falls under suspicion, but he vehmently declares that he does not know anything about what happened to Preeti. Mohan is quick to accuse Ibrahim of knowing more about Preeti’s disappearance than Ibrahim is saying. Mohan also blames Ibrahim for not giving a ride to Preeti, but Ibrahim says that Preeti refused this offer and said she wanted to wait for Mohan instead.

Ibrahim loses his temper and insults Mohan. His boss Agit orders Ibrahim to make an apology to Mohan. When Ibrahim refuses, Agit suspends Ibrahim. Vikram and Rohit have been assigned to investigate the disappearance of Preeti, but they also have to wonder if Ibrahim is somehow involved. It’s a tricky situation for them to investigate a colleague who is a “person of interest.”

And then, things get more complicated: Neha, who was working as a forensics analyst on Preeti’s case, disappears and is believed to be kidnapped. Vikram wants to be the lead investigator on Neha’s disappearance, but his boss Ajit says that Vikram is too emotionally involved. Instead, Vikram’s rival Akshay is assigned to the case. Vikram is furious about this decision.

And you can easily guess what happens next: Vikram decides to secretly investigate Neha’s disappearance on his own, with some help from Rohit, who is worried about getting in trouble for helping Vikram. What about the case of Preeti’s disappearance? And does it have anything to do with Neha’s disappearance? Those questions are answered in the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” could have easily gone down a predictable path of having Vikram being a superhero-like cop who can overcome any obstacles that come his way. The movie doesn’t do that. Instead, Vikram is depicted as a realistically flawed human being who is in denial about how much PTSD affects his everyday life.

And with the added stress of investigating these two apparent disappearances, one of whom is the woman he loves, it brings an extra layer of tension to the story. Rao gives a solid and believable performance as the emotionally tortured Vikram. Where the movie falters the most is in hokey scenes that make Vikram and Neha’s relationship look like a commercial for a romance novel, such as having slow-motion montages of the couple going on dates. These idealistic and schmaltzy scenes don’t fit the gritty tone of the rest of the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” might get some criticism for having the adding the complication of Neha disappearing. However, Neha’s disappearance raises the personal stakes for Vikram. It also compromises his ethics, when he previously had a good reputation, because he investigates her disappearance on his own, defying his supervisor’s strict orders not to do so. Some viewers might not like the answer to the story’s mystery. However, it’s a plot twist that most viewers won’t see coming and is very plausible if people know about some of the bizarre and unexpected things that happen in real-life true crime cases.

T-Series Films released “HIT: The First Case” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis and Britain Dalton

December 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Sam Worthington in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Directed by James Cameron

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and on the fictional planet of Pandora, the sci-fi action film “Avatar: The Way of Water” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying humans and non-humans.

Culture Clash: Jake Sully and Neytiri, the heroes of 2009’s “Avatar,” are now the leaders of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, but Jake becomes the target of revenge for being a traitor to Earth, so he and his family escape to live with another clan on Pandora, with an old enemy in pursuit. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Avatar” fans, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a top-notch sci-fi film.

Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has set the bar even higher for sci-fi epics. The movie’s technical achievements and story surpass the first “Avatar” film. Expect to be immersed in a visually stunning world that has a lot to say about protection of families and the environment. At 192 minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a more than worth the time of anyone who wants to be entertained for a little more than three hours by a magnificent achievement in sci-fi cinema.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that is fully appreciated if viewers have seen or know about what happened in 2009’s Oscar-winning blockbuster “Avatar,” which was also directed by Cameron. Mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t the first “Avatar” movie, which took place in the year 2154: The movie’s main hero, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-using U.S. Marine, was assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver), the leader of the Avatar Program that gives the ability for humans to appear in the form of something else.

Jake defied the government’s plan for military people to disguise themselves as Pandora natives call the Na’vi, in order to deplete the moon planet of Pandora (located in the Alpha Centauri system) for the precious resource unobtanium. Na’vi people are a humanoid species with blue skin, and the average Na’vi adults are about 10 feet tall. At the end of the first “Avatar” movie, Jake left behind his human life on Earth to become a Na’vi.

At the beginning of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (whose screenplay was written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), it is about 15 years after the first movie took place. Jake (who has fully inhabited his Na’vi body) has been happily married to Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldaña), the female Na’vi who saved his life in the first “Avatar” movie. Jake and Neytiri fell in love in the first “Avatar” movie. They now live on Pandora, where Jake is the leader of the Omatikaya clan, which lives and thrives in the forest.

Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children: teenage son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters) is the “role model” eldest child; teenage son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) is slightly rebellious and living in the shadow of Neteyam; adopted teenage daughter Kiri (played by Weaver) is haunted by the memories of her biological mother; and pre-teen daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is friendly and playful. The four Sully kids are very close to a human named Spider (played by Jack Champion), who was orphaned by the war between the Na’vi and humans.

The movie later reveals Spider’s family background and who one of his biological parents is. Spider spends so much time with the Sully kids that he’s almost like part of the family. However, Neytiri is nervous and wary about Spider becoming so close to the kids because she doesn’t completely trust humans, who are called Sky People by the Na’vi. The humans were responsible for nearly destroying Neytiri’s family in the first “Avatar” movie. One of the survivors was Neytiri’s mother Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder), who makes a brief appearance in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Kiri’s origins are revealed near the beginning of the movie: She was created from the DNA of Dr. Augustine. Mild spoiler alert for those who don’t know what happened in the first “Avatar” movie: Dr. Augustine died in the first “Avatar” movie, but she makes an appearance in flashbacks in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Throughout the movie, Kiri feels a psychic connection to that is both confusing and comforting to Kiri.

In the first “Avatar” movie, the U.S. government’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) was in charge of raiding Pandora for unobtanium because resources on Earth have diminished. The RDA still exists in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and they consider Jake to be a traitorous enemy because of what happened in the first “Avatar” movie. As described in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” production notes: “In addition to having an armada of weaponized land, air and sea vehicles at their disposal, the RDA has brought with them a secret weapon: an elite team of soldiers resurrected as recombinants (recoms). Recoms are autonomous avatars embedded with the memories of the humans whose DNA was used to create them.”

This group of recom soldiers has been tasked with one primary mission: find and kill Jake. The leader of this mission is Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), the avatar of the human Colonel Miles Quaritch (also played by Lang), who was head of RDA’s security force and Jake’s biggest adversary in the first “Avatar” movie. During this mission, the recom soldiers appear in the form of Na’vi when they go to Pandora to hunt down Jake.

Through a series of circumstances, the Sully family is are forced to leave their home. They flee to another part of Pandora, where they are taken in as refugees by the green-skinned Metkayina clan. Whereas the forest is the primary domain of the Omatikaya clan, the ocean is the primary domain of the Metkayina clan, which reluctantly lets the Sully family live with them because it’s a Na’vi tradition to help refugees of Pandora.

The leaders of the Metkayina clan are upstanding and fair-minded Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). and his compassionate wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet), who is pregnant when this story takes place. Ronal and Tonowari tell their teenage children—daughter Tsireya (played by Bailey Bass) and older son Aonung (played by Filip Geljo)—to attempt to teach the Sully kids how to adapt to the clan’s water activities, customs and traditions. Aonung is somewhat hostile to these newcomers, while Tsireya is welcoming.

Tsireya and Lo’ak have an immediate “attraction at first sight” the first time that they meet each other. It leads to some romantic moments but also some tensions, particularly from Aonung, who clashes with and bullies Lo’ak during much of the story. The residents of Pandora have much bigger problems though, when Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch and his marauding team of soldiers invade Pandora in their hunt for Jake.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has some of the most eye-popping and gorgeous visuals (especially the underwater scenes) that movie audiences will ever see in a sci-fi movie. In addition to the movie’s visual effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” enchanting cinematography and production design are particularly noteworthy. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also has emotionally impactful stories about the connections that humans and humanoids can develop with other animals. And just like in the first “Avatar” movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has a very pro-environment message that isn’t preachy but is presented in a way that serves as a warning of what could happen when a planet’s inhabitants don’t take care of their planet.

The majority of the cast members in “Avatar: The Way of Water” do not appear in human form, due to visual effects, so their acting is on par with similar big-budget movies that use visual effects to alter the appearance of the cast members. However, Weaver (as Kiri) and Dalton have some standout moments as children who feel like misfits in their family and who feel like they have something to prove about their worth in their family. Champion’s portrayal of Spider is also admirable, because Spider goes through his own issues dealing with self-esteem, identity and family loyalty.

Other characters in “Avatar: The Way of Water” include General Ardmore (played by Edie Falco), a ruthless official from RDA; Captain Mick Scoresby (played by Brendan Cowell) and Dr. Ian Garvin (played by Jemaine Clement), who are recruited by RDA to help track down Jake and find more unobtanium; and scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao), who were allies to Jake in the first “Avatar” movie.

The “Avatar” universe is best experienced from the beginning to fully understand the nuances and developments of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and other “Avatar” sequels. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that has Oscar-worthy technical prowess, but the dialogue is a little on the simplistic and generic side. What the movie lacks in dazzling dialogue it more than makes up for in delivering a poignant, thrilling and entertaining story with a big heart that viewers will want to revisit.

20th Century Studios will release “Avatar: The Way of Water” in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Kalaga Thalaivan,’ starring Udhayanidhi Stalin, Nidhhi Agerwal, Kalaiyarasan and Arav

December 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Udhayanidhi Stalin in “Kalaga Thalaivan” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Kalaga Thalaivan”

Directed by Magizh Thirumeni

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the action film “Kalaga Thalaivan” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A corporate “fixer”/assassin targets a suspected whistleblower who’s been leaking secrets about a truck-manufacturing company involved in illegal environmental pollution.

Culture Audience: “Kalaga Thalaivan” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching lengthy action thrillers that are a jumble of stereotypes and predictable plot developments.

Arav in “Kalaga Thalaivan” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Kalaga Thalaivan” makes some effort to be better than the average action flick with its plot about corporate corruption and a whistleblower investigation. But the movie isn’t very imaginative and ends up falling short because it relies too much on clichés. There’s nothing in this movie that is truly surprising. The acting is mediocre-to-bad, while the fight scenes are often very unrealistic.

Written and directed by Magizh Thirumeni, “Kalaga Thalaivan” (which means “leader of rebellion” in Tamil) is essentially a long, drawn-out chase movie where it’s easy to know within the first 20 minutes how everything is going to end. “Kalaga Thalaivan” is yet one of many action films that get churned out and follow many of the same formulas. What makes it worse is when this type of movie is dragged out for more than two hours (“Kalaga Thalaivan” is 141 minutes), with much of the movie bloated by meaningless filler scenes.

In the beginning of “Kalaga Thalaivan,” which takes place in various cities in India, the Vahjra truck-manufacturing company has been having tremendous success because of a new line of trucks that the company has been touting as energy-efficient and environmentally responsible. The reality is that the trucks cause a lot of dmaging pollution. Executives at Vahjra obviously want to keep this pollution scandal a secret.

An unidentified person leaks this secret to the media, so Vahjra is now under investigation for violations of environmental regulations. Vahjra’s chief executive hires a “fixer” named Arjun (played by Arav), who describes himself as a private investigator/assassin, to find out who leaked this inside information. Because the whistleblower is suspected to be an empoylee, Arjun gets a list of manager-level employees who know this iinsie information, he goes to their homes, and severely beats them to try to get confessions out of them.

All of the employees except one insist that they didn’t leak any of the company’s information. One of the employees who gets assaulted—a regional manager named Keshav Rao—confesses that he was paid to leave the information in a pen-shaped flash drive in a designated place on the train. Arjun now knows that the effort to take down Vahjra could be part of a conspiracy, not just a lone whistleblower. He’s determined to find out who is the mastermind.

As example of how vicious Arjun is, he and a crony named Raju (played by Aarav) got Keshav’s confession by tracking down Keshav’s daughter (played by Dharanie) on a restaurant date with her boyfriend (played by Rakshith), throwing acid on the boyfriend’s face, and then going back to Keshav and saying that Keshav’s daughter would be next to be maimed by acid unless Keshav confessed. Keshav names another Vahjra employee named Jai Prakash (played by Jeeva Ravi), a Chennai section chief for the company. That’s how Arjun finds out that all the Vahjra employees that he beat up and interrogated were employees who were demoted, which might give them a motive to get revenge on the company.

Because it’s already been revealed in the trailers for “Kalaga Thalaivan,” the mastermind whistleblower is a Vahjra employee named Thirumaaran (played by Udhayanidhi Stalin), who goes by the nickname Thiru. Arjun not only has to track down Thiru but he also has to get proof that Thiru is the mastermind. It takes an awfully long time to get to this point where Thiru’s whistleblower identity is discovered by Arjun. If that information hadn’t already been revealed in the movie’s trailers. viewers would have more suspense in watching “Kalaga Thalaivan,” which is a repetitive movie that isn’t nearly as clever as the movie thinks it is.

Adding to the clichés, “Kalaga Thalaivan” has a lukewarm romance that plays out in the movie exactly like you think it will. In between life-threatening fights and hiding out like a fugitive, Thiru has time to romance a pretty woman named Mythili (also spelled Maithili) Prasad (played by Nidhhi Agerwal), who already has a boyfriend (played by Pradeep) in a serious relationship, and she wants to keep Thiru in the “friend zone.”

This is an example of a cringeworthy pickup line that Thiru uses on Mythili: “You can tell a lot about a woman’s personality by her handbag.” Thiru is persistent in courting her, and you can figure out the rest. Of course, Mythili finds out the hard way that Thiru has an assassin after him. She finds out in a very predictable sequence that happens later in the movie.

Thiru has two people as his main accomplices in helping him evade the revenge actions of Arjun. Thiru has a best friend named Ghandi (played by Kalaiyarasan), who is a stereotypical sidekick of the movie’s hero: goofy, sometimes awkward, and serving in the role of bringing some comic relief. Arjun’s other accomplice is his adoptive mother Bharati (played by Anupama Kumar), who advises him to disappear and start a new life.

In between the silly action scenes (where people don’t get injuries that would cause broken bones in real life), there’s some computer hacking, more melodrama in the Thiru/Mythili romance, and a storyline that stretches over eight years. Some of the movie’s cinematography is well-done in capturing the energy of the action sequences. However, the film editing is so choppy, it lowers the quality of “Kalaga Thalaivan,” which wasn’t a high-quality movie in the first place.

All of the movie’s characters are hollow stereotypes, with nothing distinctive about the cast members’ acting performances. Stalin, who has another career as a politician, is one of this movie’s producers, which explains why he’s miscast as the movie’s action hero. He never looks very convincing in the fight scenes where there are obvious stunt doubles. The only mystery in this long-winded wannabe thriller is why Thiru wanted to mastermind this whistleblowing scheme. When that motive is revealed, it’s not that surprising, and it’s actually very underwhelming—much like this entire, forgettable movie.

Red Giant Movies released “Kalaga Thalaivan” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt,’ starring Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malik and Mahira Khan

November 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Fawad Khan in “The Legend of Maula Jatt” (Photo courtesy of Mandviwalla Entertainment)

“The Legend of Maula Jatt”

Directed by Bilal Lashari

Punjabi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed region of India during an unspecified ancient time, the action film “The Legend of Maula Jatt” features an all-Pakistani cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash:  An orphaned boy grows up to become champion wrestler/fighter, and he sets out to get revenge on the family who murdered his family.

Culture Audience: “The Legend of Maula Jatt” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the 1979 film “Maula Jatt” and action flicks that have a lot of mindless spectacle and formulaic storytelling.

Hamza Ali Abbasi in “The Legend of Maula Jatt” (Photo courtesy of Mandviwalla Entertainment)

“The Legend of Maula Jatt” is an overblown mess with too much bad acting for it to be redeemable. The bombastic fight scenes can’t disguise how everything about this movie looks stale and unimaginative. “The Legend of Maula Jatt” is a remake of the 1979 film “Maula Jatt.” And except for the bigger budget and more elaborate action scenes, “The Legend of Maula Jatt” doesn’t do a lot to improve the storytelling quality of the original “Maula Jatt” movie.

Directed by Bilal Lashari (who co-wrote “The Legend of Maula Jatt” screenplay with Nasir Adeeb), “The Legend of Maula Jatt” drags on and on during the movie’s overly long running time of 153 minutes. The story takes place in an unnamed region of India, during an unspecified ancient time period. It’s yet another action film where the hero is an orphan who grows up to avenge the murders of his family members.

The movie opens with this statement: “This is the story of the raging fire of revenge that still burns to this day.” In the movie’s first 10 minutes, a ruthless conqueror named Jeeva Natt (played by Shafqat Cheema) invades and attacks a community led by Sardar Jatt (played by Babara Ali), a peaceful ruler. Sardar, his wife Malika Jatt (played by Resham) and other family members are murdered, except for the spouses’ only son, Maula Jatt (played by Waliullah Afridi), who is about 8 or 9 years old when he escapes this massacre.

Maula is found and raised by a single mother named Daani (played by Raheela Agha), who has a biological son named Mooda Baksh (played by Agha Hunain), who is about the same age as Maula. When Maula first arrives in Daani’s home, he is mute from the trauma of having a murdered family. However, Maula has apparently blocked out the memories of the massacre because he doesn’t remember who his family is or what happened to them. Maula is haunted by nightmares that confuse him. Daani does not want to tell Maula the truth and keeps it a secret from him.

Eventually, Mooda helps Maula overcome his muteness and become less introverted. The two friends are raised as brothers. At times, there are conflicts and jealousy about whether Daani prefers Mooda or Maula. This on-again/off-again rivalry continues into the adulthood of Maula (played by Fawad Khan) and Mooda (Faris Shafi), and it’s dragged out in a tedious subplot in the movie.

Twenty-five years after his family was murdered, Maula becomes a championship wrestler, as well as a very skilled fighter in other ways. When Maula was an up-and-coming wrestler who was beginning to win his matches, he caught the attention of Mukhoo Jattni (played by Mahira Khan), a feisty female spectator of these wrestling matches. Mukhoo is Maula’s obvious love interest from the beginning. Everything that happens in their relationship is very predictable.

Meanwhile, there’s turmoil in Jeeva Natt’s family. Jeeva’s eldest son Noori Natt (played by Hamza Ali Abbasi) is in prison for being a vicious serial killer. Therefore, Jeeva wants to make his younger son Maakha Natt (played by Gohar Rasheed) his heir. However, Jeeva’s diabolical daughter Daaro Natt (played by Humaima Malik) thinks this is a wrong decision, because she’s loyal to Noori and believes that Noori should be the rightful heir. Daaro also doesn’t respect Maahka (who is a rapist), because she thinks Maahka is mentally weak.

Most of “The Legend of Maula Jatt” shows what happens after Maula finds out that his family was murdered. He vows to get revenge on the Natt family. It’s obvious that a lot of the movie’s production budget went into the production design, costume design and the over-choregraphed action sequences involving armies of fighters. The movie’s visual effects get the job done efficiently.

The problem is that “The Legend of Maula Jatt” filmmakers didn’t care enough about casting skilled actors who can say dialogue in a talented and believable way. The acting in “The Legend of Maula Jatt” is absolutely cringeworthy—either too flat or too exaggerated. Worst of all, there’s no suspense or any real surprises in this long-winded action film, because everything in the movie plays out like a formulaic “heroes versus villains” video game that is a lazy imitation of better ones that came before it.

Mandviwalla Entertainment released “The Legend of Maula Jatt” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. The movie was released in Pakistan on October 13, 2022.

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