Review: ‘Maamannan,’ starring Vadivelu, Udhayanidhi Stalin, Fahadh Faasil and Keerthy Suresh

July 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vadivelu and Udhayanidhi Stalin in “Maamannan” (Photo by Red Giant Movies)


Directed by Mari Selvaraj

Tamil with subtitles

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

Culture Clash: Two political families have a power struggle, and their feud becomes deadly.

Culture Audience: “Maamannan” will appeal primarily to people who want to watch repetitive and repulsive violence from mostly unlikable characters.

Fahadh Faasil in “Maamannan” (Photo by Red Giant Movies)

“Maamannan” is hate-filled, idiotic garbage with excessive scenes of animal cruelty. It rehashes the same old plots of family feuds and murderous revenge that have already been done in much better ways in many other action flicks. The scenes of animal murders are especially heinous because they’re filmed in close-ups and in slow-motion with enhanced sound effects, as if the director wants viewers to wallow in all the gratuitous gore. It’s disgusting.

Written and directed by Mari Selvaraj, “Maamannan” is yet another violent action flick about family members out for revenge. In this story, which takes place in an unnamed city in India, two political families are feuding with each. The patriarch of one family is Maamannan (played by Vadivelu), who is a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) and a speaker of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly.

Even though the movie is named after Maamannan, he’s not the main protagonist of the story. Maamannan’s prodigal son Athiveeran, nicknamed Veera (played by Udhayanidhi Stalin), is the “star” character of the movie. Stalin is also the producer of “Maamannan.” In other words, it’s easy to make yourself the star of a movie if you’re paying for the movie to get made.

On the other side of the feud is district secretary Rathnavelu (played by Fahadh Faasil), a truly evil villain who has been in a power struggle with Maamannan for quite some time. Rathnavelu, who is close to Veera’s age, is scion of a wealthy political dynasty that is part of the dominant community in this district. The dynasty includes Rathnavelu’s father Salem Sundaram (played by Azhagam Perumal) and Rathnavelu’s elder brother Shanmugavel (played by Sunil Reddy), who are corrupt but not nearly as monstrous as Rathnavelu.

Rathnavelu and Maamannan have been locked into a dispute over the close election results for Maamannan’s position. Rathnavelu has declared himself the victor, but Maamannan is contesting this election. Rathnavelu has been pressuring Maamannan to give up and concede the election to Rathnavelu. Maamannan, who is a little wimpy and naive, is contemplating what to do.

Veera has had a tense relationship for years with Maamannan, ever since Veera was about 15 or 16 years old, and he temporarily ran away from home after being attacked. Veera was wrongfully blamed for the attack, which tainted his reputation. Veera never really forgave his father for not being as supportive as Veera expected.

Now in his 40s, Veera owns a martial arts dojo, where most of his students are teenage boys and young men. The dojo is how Veera meets Leela (played by Keerthy Suresh), who is a teacher at a school for underprivileged kids. Veera and Leela begin dating each other soon after they meet.

Veera eventually introduces Leela to his parents. Maamannan shows his sexism when he comments to Veera later that Leela isn’t very ladylike because Leela has a tendency to wear jeans and athletic shoes. Veera’s mother Veerayi (played by Geetha Kailasam), who is very passive and mostly mute, seems to have some mental health issues. The minority of women in this male-dominated movie are mostly background characters.

In addition to being a politician, Maamannan is a farmer. The family farm has several animals, but the farm mainly raises pigs. Rathnavelu owns a pack of hound dogs and is involved in dog racing. If one of his dogs loses a race, Rathnavelu doesn’t hesitate to viciously beat the dog to death.

During this bloated, 155-minute, trash dump movie, the feuding escalates between the two families. Maamannan is considered too elderly to get involved in most of the physical fights, so his son Veera is the one who ends up in most of the brutal conflicts with Rathnavelu. The movie tries to show how Veera and Maamannan start to mend their relationship when Veera becomes his father’s protector, but there’s so much nasty violence that Veera commits, he doesn’t look heroic at all.

Rathnavelu is the movie’s worst character, with no redeeming qualities. The acting, writing and directing in “Maamannan” are mind-numbingly terrible. “Maamannan” writer/director Selvaraj chose to film the animal death scenes in such a sadistic way, it sinks what was already a tacky movie into a permanently putrid cinematic cesspool. Disclaimers saying, “No animals were harmed while making this movie” will not convince viewers otherwise. Avoid this awful movie if you value your intelligence and your time.

Red Giant Movies released “Maamannan” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 30,2023.

Review: ‘Spy’ (2023), starring Nikhil Siddharth, Iswarya Menon, Aryan Rajesh, Abhinav Gomatam, Sanya Thakur and Nitin Mehta

July 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nikhil Siddharth in “Spy” (Photo courtesy of Red Cinemas)

“Spy” (2023)

Directed by Garry BH

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Asia, the action film “Spy” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A spy tries to find out who killed his brother while he hunts down a terrorist.

Culture Audience: “Spy” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent and silly action movies.

Nitin Mehta in “Spy” (Photo courtesy of Red Cinemas)

“Spy” is a jumbled mess with sloppy editing, a moronic plot, and mindless violence. There’s no originality in this time-wasting film about a spy hunting down a terrorist. There are too many other movies that have the same plot but are much more interesting to watch than “Spy,” whose title is also very unoriginal.

Directed by Garry BH and written by Anirudh Krishna Murthy, “Spy” is supposed to look like a globe-trotting adventure. The movie’s story takes place in Jordan, Israel, India, and Pakistan. All of these different location don’t add anythng substantial to the story. They just serve as backdrops to the generic chase scenes and shootouts in this dreadful action flick.

In “Spy,” most of the main characters are from India. Vijay “Jai” Vardhan (played by Nikhil Siddharth) is an obnoxious Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) agent who is tasked with finding an elusive terrorist named Khadir Khan (played by Nitin Mehta), who is also an arms dealer. There’s also some nonsense about Vijay trying to find a connection betwen Khadir and secrets of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, an Indian nationalist who rose to prominence in the 1940s.

“Spy” is nothing but a checklist of stereotypes. Does the dashing “hero” have a less-dashng sidekick? Check. Vijay’s sidekick is co-worker/best friend Kamal (played by Abhinav Gomatam), who doesn’t do much that’s substantial.

Does the “hero” have a personal tragedy and is seeking revenge for it? Check. Vijay’s brother Subhash Vardhan (played by Aryan Rajesh) was also a R&AW agent, and he was killed in the line of duty while trying to apprehend Khadir. There’s a muddled part of the movie that mentions Subhash was credited with capturing Khadir, but Khadir really escaped.

Does the “hero” have a pretty love interest? Double check. He’s got two: Vijay meets Ashiwaraya (played by Iswarya Menon) in a bar. He breaks a bottle over the head of another guy who tries to talk to her. It’s obvious that something is off about Ashiwaraya because she thinks this type of bullying violence is flattering.

Vijay’s other love interest is Saraswati (played by Sanya Thakur), who is one of his colleagues. “Spy” has old-fashioned stereotypes of women. Ashiwaraya is supposed to be the seductive, “bad girl” type. Saraswati is supposed to be the dependable “good girl” type.

Vijay promises his father (played by Tanikella Bharani) that he will find the murderer of Subhash. The movie goes from fight scene to fight scene with no style or charisma. The same can be said of the bland acting performances from the cast. “Spy” will be quickly forgotten by viewers because there’s not much about the movie that’s worth remembering.

Red Cinemas released “Spy” in select U.S. cinemas on June 28, 2023, and in India on June 29, 2023.

Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,’ starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby and Henry Czerny

July 5, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Some language in Italian and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from various parts of the world, the action film “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) who are connected in some way with government operations or criminal activities.

Culture Clash: IMF (International Mission Force) rogue agent Ethan Hunt is once again on a mission to save the world from deadly villains. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing the obvious target audience of “Mission: Impossible” fans, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Tom Cruise and spy thrillers with death-defying action stunts.

Pom Klementieff in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

By now, most movie fans know that the “Mission: Impossible” movie series, starring Tom Cruise as IMF rogue agent Ethan Hunt, will have a lot of amazing stunts and action sequences. Cruise famously does his own principal stunts for these films. The “Mission: Impossible” movie series (based on the TV series of the same name) began in 1996. Instead of slowing down with these movies, Cruise seems determined to do even more outrageous stunts. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” the stakes get even higher when Ethan and all the main characters face the challenge of an entity that can create false images and alter people’s perceptions of reality.

As already show in the movie’s trailer, Cruise’s biggest stunt in the film is driving custom-made Honda CRF 250 off of Norway’s Helsetkopen mountain, where he fell 4,000 feet into a ravine before opening his parachute about 500 feet from the ground. There are more stunts (some using obvious visual effects) involving planes, trains and automobiles. The movie also introduces a few intriguing new characters who will be appearing in more than on “Mission: Impossible” movie.

Directed by Chistopher McQuarrie, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is the seventh film in the “Mission: Impossible” movie series and the third consecutive “Mission: Impossible” film that McQuarrie has directed, following 2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Cruise and McQuarrie are the producers of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” which was written by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen. It’s the same writing, directing and producing team behind “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two,” which is set for release in 2024.

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is the most ambitious of the “Mission: Impossible” movie series so far but in some ways also the most ridiculous. In trying so hard to outdo its predecessors, the movie gets into cartoonish territory when characters don’t get any injuries in crashes and explosions that would kill or maim most people in real life. Some of the plot also get too convoluted. Despite these flaws, what a thrill ride it is. This action-packed and suspenseful film mostly earns its total running time of 156 minutes, even though “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” still could’ve benefited from tighter film editing. (For example, the movie’s opening credits don’t happen until 28 minutes into the film.)

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” opens with a Russian submarine getting blown up after getting hit with a torpedo. The submarine’s video monitors and other computer systems were hacked by a mysterious entity that can create illusions to confuse the submarine’s occupants. These illusions caught the occupants off guard, which led to the torpedo destroying the submarine and everyone inside.

This all-powerful hacking tool is essentially on a computer flash drive, which is called a key. It should come as no surprise that every major terrorist group and every major governmental superpower is looking for this key, which is being sold to the highest bidder. Ethan works for a secretive government operation called International Mission Force (IMF), which gives him a new task in each “Mission: Impossible” movie. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” Ethan and his team have been tasked with finding the key before it gets into the wrong hands.

Ethan agrees to accept this mission, but he disagrees with the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, whose last name is Denlinger (played by Cary Elwes), who is also the head of a mysterious spy group called The Community. Denlinger (who is based in Washington, D.C.) thinks the U.S. government should be able to control this entity. Ethan thinks that the entity should be destroyed. Denlinger doesn’t know that IMF exists until he meets Ethan.

For this mission, Ethan is once again joined by his two trusty sidekicks who are computer technology experts and hackers: Luther Stickell (played by Ving Rhames), who is calm and logical, is Ethan’s oldest friend. Luther’s nicknames are Phinneas Freak and The Net Ranger. Benji Dunn, who is jumpy and neurotic, is Benji Dunn, who often follows orders from Luther.

Returning to the “Mission: Impossible” franchise are mercenary Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), who has complicated relationship with Ethan; Eugene Kittridge (played by Henry Czerny), who was in 1996’s “Mission: Impossible” movie and who is now the director of the CIA; and the morally ambiguous Alanna Mitsopolis (played by Vanessa Kirby), also known as The White Widow. There’s a very memorable sequence on a train that involves Alanna/The White Widow.

During this globetrotting hunt, Ethan and his team got to various places, including the Arabian Desert, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Rome and the Austrian Alps. They are being hunted by operatives from the U.S. government agency Clandestine Services. A Clandestine Services operative named Briggs (played by Shea Whigham) is leading this hunt. Briggs is a gruff taskmaster who likes to bend the rules, while his relatively new subordinate Degas (played by Greg Tarzan Davis) is very by-the-book and wants to follow the established protocol.

The movie’s chief villain is a mysterious agitator named Gabriel (played by Esai Morales), who has his ruthless sidekick Paris (played by Pom Klementieff) do a lot of his dirty work. Ethan and Gabriel share a past that has to do with a woman named Marie (played by Mariela Garriga), with this shared past explaining some of Gabriel’s motivations. Paris is the one who is most often seen trying to kill Ethan and a cunning thief named Grace (played by Hayley Atwell), who becomes Ethan’s reluctant and often untrustworthy accomplice in this race to get possession of the key.

One of the ways that “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” stands apart from so many other action films is that it doesn’t play into tired stereotypes of having a principal cast of people who mostly under the age of 40. Likewise, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” also defies that action movie stereotype of having just one leading actress (usually someone’s love interest in the movie) among a slew of male leading actors. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” there are four strong women who have prominent roles in the movie.

Klementieff is a standout among “Mission: Impossible” villains. Her menacing Paris character is in stark contrast to the sweet-natured outer-space alien Mantis that Klementieff played in Marvel Studios’ superhero “Guardians of the Galaxy” blockbusters. In many ways, Paris outshines Gabriel, since Gabriel is more of a psychological villain than someone who can barrel through streets in a high-speed car chases or cause mayhem with an arsenal of weapons.

Atwell also holds her own in the action scenes, although some viewers might find Grace’s intentionally duplicitous personality a little annoying. Rhames and Pegg continue their sometimes-amusing rapport as Luther and Benji. Cruise does some of his best stunt work ever in the movie. If stunt work had a category at the Academy Awards, then Cruise would be a certain nominee if not winner for “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.” It’s a breathtaking thriller that delivers beyond expectations for action scenes and spy intrigue. However, the “Mission: Impossible” filmmakers need to remember to have some of these action scenes more grounded in the reality of human frailties and the realistic consequences of being in these death-defying situations.

Paramount Pictures will release “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” in U.S. cinemas on July 12, 2023, with sneak previews on July 10, 2023.

Review: ‘The Childe,’ starring Kim Seon-ho, Kang Tae-ju, Kim Kang-woo and Go Ara

July 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kang Tae-ju (facing camera) and Kim Seon-ho in “The Childe” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Childe”

Directed by Park Hoon-jung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and South Korea, the action film “The Childe” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old underground fighter in the Philippines travels to South Korea to get money from his estranged father to help pay for the medical bills of the fighter’s ailing mother, but the fighter gets more than he bargained for when he finds out that people are trying to kill him.

Culture Audience: “The Childe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching neo-noir action films.

Kim Kang-woo (center) in “The Childe” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Childe” is an intriguing action film with plot twists that will keep viewers riveted. The principal cast members give solid performances. There are also frank depictions of the prejudices experienced by half-Korean, half-Filipino people in South Korea. These bi-ethnic people are called Kopinos, which is sometimes used as a derogatory term, depending who’s saying it and the context.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, “The Childe” is an often-violent story about greed, ambition, and family relationships. The movie’s protagonist is 24-year-old Marco Han (played by Kang Tae-ju), who lives in the Philippines and makes illegal money as an underground boxer. Marco is desperate for cash because he’s the only one who can pay the medical bills of his ailing mother (played by Caroline Magbojos), who raised Marco as a single parent. Her medical situation is urgent because she needs a life-changing operation.

Marco’s biological father, who was never in Marco’s life, is a wealthy South Korean businessman who has some medical issues of his own. Because of heart problems, he is comatose and currently on a ventilator in a hospital in South Korea. Marco’s father has not kept in touch with Marco’s mother. It’s mentioned that Marco’s father kept his distance because he was ashamed of having an illegitimate child who’s half-Filipino.

Marco’s father, who is currently a widower, has two other children, who were both raised in this wealthy family: Adult son Director Han (played by Kang-woo Kim), who is in his 40s, is the heir apparent to the family fortune, which includes the Hokyung Foundation. His sister Han Ga-young (played by Jeong Ra-el) is in her late teens. Director Han knows about Marco. In a scene where Director Han is talking to their comatose father in the hospital, Director Han calls Marco a “mutt” because of Marco’s half-Filipino/half-South Korean heritage.

Back in the Philippines, Marco is enticed by a shady criminal to rob a warehouse. When Marco arrives at the warehouse, he finds out too late that it’s all a setup for an ambush. He’s physically attacked by about 10 thugs and runs away into a street, where he is almost hit by a car driven by a mysterious woman who’s about the same age as Marco. Viewers later find out that her name is Yoon-ju (played by Go Ara), who knows more than she initially tells Marco.

When Yoon-ju and Marco first meet, she’s very apologetic for almost hitting him with her car. When she sees his injuries, she insists on taking him to a hospital. The thugs that were chasing Marco back off and leave when they see that Marco is being helped by a potential witness. Yoon-ju makes the mistake of asking Marco if he’s a Kopino. It’s a question that offends Marco, and Yoon-ju makes an apology for it.

After Marco leaves the hospital, another mysterious stranger comes into his life. He’s only identiified in the movie as Nobleman (played by Kim Seon-ho), and he is a frequently smirking assassin. Nobleman tells Marco that he was sent by Marco’s father to bring Marco to South Korea. At first Marco is suspicious, because he’s been estranged from his father for Marco’s entire life, so Marco wonders why he is being summoned by his father at this point in time. But then, Marco decides he can use this visit to South Korea to ask his father for money to pay for the operation that Marco’s mother needs.

The next thing that Marco knows, he’s being whisked on a private plane to South Korea. But what about those thugs that attacked him? Why did that happen? Marco soon finds out that he’s also under attack in Korea. There are several scenes in the movie where he is chased by men who obviously want to kill him. It should come as no surprise who’s behind these attacks, but the motivation for these attempted murders is meant to be a surprise, which is revealed in the last third of the movie.

Nobleman and Marco develop an unusual like/dislike rapport, where the lines are blurred on whose side Nobleman is really on. The offbeat and sometimes sarcastic banter that Nobleman and Marco have with each other is the darkly comedic part of the movie. Kim and Kang have great performance chemistry with each other. Between the action scenes, Marco is trying to find out exactly who Nobleman is, just like how viewers might be wondering the same thing.

A few of the action sequences are unrealistic in how certain people should end up with broken or fractured bones but don’t. However, the stunts mostly look believable and don’t over-rely on visual effects. The mystery behind Marco’s invitation to South Korea eventually reveals a truth that is not as obvious as it first appears to be. “The Childe” isn’t a perfect action movie, but it offers enough thrills and suspense to satisfy any fan of the genre.

Well Go USA released “The Childe” in select U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023. The movie was released in South Korea on June 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Adipurush,’ starring Prabhas, Saif Ali Khan, Kriti Sanon, Sunny Singh and Devdatta Nage

June 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Devdatta Nage, Prabhas and Sunny Singh in “Adipurush” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)


Directed by Om Raut

Released in Hindi and Telugu versions with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the fantasy/action film “Adipurush” (based on the epic Hindu tale “Ramayana”) features an Indian cast of characters in a world populated by humans and talking creatures.

Culture Clash: A god prince goes on a mission to rescue his kidnapped wife.

Culture Audience: “Adipurush” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an overly long fantasy film that has terrible visual effects and stupid dialogue.

Saif Ali Khan in “Adipurush” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“Adipurush” is a spectacle for all the wrong reasons. Viewers will be watching to see if the tacky visual effects and idiotic plot can get any worse. They do. And at three hours long, this bombastic and mind-numbing fantasy film becomes an endurance test. According to MeaningDB (a database for English-language meanings of Indian words): “Adipurush is a Sanskrit name that refers to the God Ishwara. Adi means first, and Purush means man. The name together denotes First Man/Supreme Person.”

Directed by Om Raut (who co-wrote the atrocious “Adipurush” screenplay with Manoj Muntashir), “Adipurush” is based on the epic Hindu tale “Ramayana.” However, there are enough changes to this movie adaptation, that there’s not much resemblance to the original story. What viewers will see in the movie is just a mishmash of fight scenes and chase scenes that revolve around rescuing a kidnapped princess. “Adipurush” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

In “Adipurush” (which takes place in an unspecified time period in India), the main hero is Raghava (played by Prabhas), a god prince who has extraordinary fighting powers. In the beginning of the movie, he’s seen defeating an army of harpy-like demons. Raghava’s loyal and loving wife Janaki (played by Kriti Sanon) soon gets kidnapped by the evil Ravana (played by Saif Ali Khan), a demon king of Lanka. Ravana can sprout 10 heads. The 10-headed Ravana is one of the more laughable (and not in a good way) parts of “Adipurush,” because the visual effects look so fake.

Ravana’s sister Shurpanakha (played by Tejaswini Pandit) actually instigated this kidnapping. Shurpanakha is jealous of Janaki, because Shurpanakha wanted to have a love affair with Raghava, but he rejected her and told her that he was going to remain loyal to Janaki. Raghava’s younger brother Shesh (played by Sunny Singh) also became a target for Shurpanakha’s seductions, but Shesh rejected her too. Shurpanakha tried to harm Janaki, but Shesh thwarted this effort and cut off Shurpanakha’s nose as a result.

Shurpanakha then told Ravana that she wants his help to get revenge on Janaki and Raghava. Ravana sees Janaki and immediately becomes smitten by her beauty and decides that he wants her for himself. This desire led to Janaki being kidnapped and hidden away in the Forest of Panchavati. Raghava, Shesh and many allies then go on a mission to find and rescue Janaki and defeat Ravana and his army.

One of the allies of Raghava and Shesh is a mutant human/monkey named Bajrang (played by Devdatta Nage), who looks mostly like a human, except for his long monkey tail. Bajang also has the ability to grow to the size of a skyscraper building. There are several talking primates in “Adipurush,” and they all look like rejects from director Matt Reeves’ masterful “Planet of the Apes” movies. There are also a few talking bears. The acting performances “Adipurush” range from average to barely watchable.

Perhaps the most ridiculous scene in the movie is when Bajrang finds Janaki in the forest. She is by herself in an open field, where she is unguarded, unrestrained, and not locked up in a room. In other words, it would be easy for anyone to rescue her at that moment. But no. All Bajrang says is that he’s a messenger for Raghava, and the message is that Raghava loves Janaki.

Imagine being a kidnapping victim and a warrior ally has a chance to rescue you, but all he says is, “Nice to see you. I have a message. Your spouse loves you. I have to go now so that your spouse can be the one to rescue you. Goodbye.” That’s essentially what happens in “”Adipurush,” which takes a full hour (the last third of the movie) to show Raghava trying to get to Janaki and the battles he has along the way. Anyone who wants a good adventure story that doesn’t insult your intelligence should steer clear of “Adipurush,” which is nothing but idiotic and very loud movie junk.

AA Films released “Adipurush” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 16, 2023.

Review: ‘The Flash’ (2023), starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú and Kiersey Clemons

June 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ezra Miller, Ezra Miller and Sasha Calle in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

“The Flash” (2023)

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Central City (in the United States), in Russia, and in a fictional multiverse, the superhero action film “The Flash” (based on DC Comics characters) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Barry Allen, also known as the superhero The Flash, goes back in time to try to prevent the death of his mother, while the evil General Zod hunts for members of the exiled Krypton family that includes Superman and Supergirl. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “The Flash” will appeal primarily to people who like watching imaginative multiverse movies that don’t get too confusing.

Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton and Ezra Miller in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

Bold, creative, and with some appealing quirks, “The Flash” lives up to expectations and offers some jaw-dropping surprises. Viewers who are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) won’t get too confused, while ardent fans will be constantly thrilled. Some movies with multiverses can get too convoluted with messy plots, or overstuffed with too many characters. However, “The Flash” (which is based on DC Comics characters) wisely sticks to less than six principal characters that get the most screen time. The movie’s plot (which has some fantastic twists) is easy to follow, although people who’ve seen previous DCEU movies will have a better understanding of everything. Viewers with extensive knowledge of pop culture will also appreciate some of the jokes in the movie.

Directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Christina Hodson, “The Flash” takes place mostly in the fictional Central City, a sprawling U.S. metropolis that is currently under attack by General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), a supervillain whose chief nemesis is Superman, the superhero who has the powers to stop Zod. Superman, who has an alter ego as journalist Clark Kent, has gone missing. Faora-Ul (played by Antje Traue) is a fearless warrior who is General Zod’s second-in-command.

As superhero fans already know, Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) is a refugee of the planet Krypton, which was destroyed by Zod. Superman’s parents died in this massacre but sent him to Earth as a baby while the attack on Krypton was happening. Did other members of the family survive? All of this background information is useful for what happens later in “The Flash.”

The title character of “The Flash” is man in his 20s named Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller), whose superhero alter ego is The Flash, who has phenomenal speed. The movie’s opening sequences shows The Flash saving babies from a hospital maternity ward when the building’s hospital was destroyed by Zod and his army. The movie foreshadows what type of comedy it will have by showing that during this crisis, The Flash took the time to eat and drink from a falling vending machine to boost his energy.

In other early sequence, a criminal with a briefcase is apprehended on a bridge by The Flash, Batman (played by Ben Affleck), also known as billionaire Bruce Wayne, and another member of the Justice League (whose identity won’t be revealed in this review) help The Flash. The briefcase contains a weapon that can “wipe out half of Gotham by lunchtime,” warns Bruce’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons), who has a quick cameo appearance in “The Flash.”

When he’s not being The Flash, shy and insecure Barry is a forensics lab employee at the Central City Research Center, which does a lot of work for the Central City Police Department. Barry is preoccupied with proving the innocence of his father Henry Allen (played by Ron Livingston), who is in prison for the murder of his wife/Barry’s mother Nora Allen (played by Maribel Verdú), who was stabbed to death in their kitchen at home. (Livingston replaces Billy Crudup, who previously played the role of Henry Allen, but Crudup was unavailable to be in “The Flash” because of work commitments on Crudup’s Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show.”) Henry was wrongfully convicted of Nora’s murder and is appealing the conviction. In “The Flash,” Henry is awaiting a court hearing for this appeal.

A flashback shows that Barry at 11 years old (played by Ian Loh) was home and upstairs when the murder happened. Henry had been at a grocery store getting a can of tomatoes at Nora’s request, because she had forgotten to buy the tomatoes earlier. Henry came home to find his wife murdered. However, he doesn’t have a solid alibi. The grocery store’s video surveillance has images of Henry, but he’s wearing a baseball cap, and his face can’t fully be seen in the surveillance video. Henry was the one who discovered Nora’s body, and with no solid alibi, he became the chief suspect in the murder.

Through a series of events, Barry finds himself going back in time and interacting with his 18-year-old self (also played by Miller) in a multiverse that includes the Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Michael Keaton) of the 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns.” When the two Barrys first meet this version of Bruce, he is a bearded and disheveled recluse who denies he was ever Batman, but then he admits it. This Batman grumpily and reluctantly comes out of retirement to help Barry.

The movie makes it easy for viewers to distinguish between the two Barrys: The younger Barry has longer hair, is goofy, and has blue light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The older Barry has short hair, is more serious, and has red light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The younger Barry has a homemade Flash superhero suit, while the older Barry’s Flash suit is the “official” Flash superhero suit.

Along the way, these three superheroes encounter Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, also known as Supergirl (played by Sasha Calle), who has been imprisoned somewhere in Russia. Because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailers, Supergirl joins both iterations of The Flash and Keaton’s Batman to team up to fight Zod. Central City journalist Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons) returns in a supporting role as Barry’s love interest. Iris just happens to be covering Henry’s court case.

Although “The Flash” has a lot of dazzling images throughout the film, the movie’s visual effects fall a little short in scenes where Barry goes to stop time and pick a multiverse to enter. These scenes show flashbacks to other versions of the DC Comics-based movies and TV shows, with the visual presentation looking a little too much like the computer-generated imagery that it is. It’s a little distracting, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

Miller excels in their performance as the dual Barry Allen/The Flash. (Miller identifies as non-binary in real life and uses the pronouns they/them.) Calle’s performance is a little stiff, but her Supergirl comes out of coma in the movie, so her personality is aloof and more than a little shell-shocked. Keaton steps back into his Batman role perfectly. It’s a performance that will delight fans of the first two “Batman” movies.

“The Flash” has some clever comedy about alternative castings for movies, including a running joke about Eric Stoltz being the star of 1985’s “Back to the Future” in an alternate universe. In real life, Stoltz was fired from “Back to the Future” and replaced by Michael J. Fox. Only people who know this pop culture trivia will really get the jokes. There’s also some surprise and sometimes hilarious references to other actors who were cast or could have been cast as superhero characters in other DC Comics-based entertainment.

“The Flash” is a rollicking adventure that earns its total running time of 144 minutes. The movie has an end-credits scene that is there for pure comedy and has no deep meaning to any sequels. If “The Flash” is the first DC Comics-based movie that a viewer will see, it’s best to know what happened in 2013’s “Man of Steel” and 2021’s “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” DC Comics-based movies have been hit and miss, in terms of quality, but “The Flash” leaves no question that it’s a “hit” on a storytelling level.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Flash” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2023.

Review: ‘One Ranger,’ starring Thomas Jane and John Malkovich

May 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Thomas Jane and Dominique Tipper in “One Ranger” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“One Ranger”

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas, Mexico, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom, the action film “One Ranger” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Native Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A Texas ranger is enlisted by a British intelligence agent to help capture a Northern Irish terrorist.

Culture Audience: “One Ranger” will primarily appeal to people who don’t mind watching low-quality “law and order” chase movies.

Dean Jagger in “One Ranger” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“One Ranger” star Thomas Jane is one of those actors who has done so many bad movies over the last several years, people who watch a lot of movies already know that any film he stars in will be a terrible flop. “One Ranger” is just a ridiculous series of chase scenes where viewers are supposed to believe that MI6 can’t catch an international terrorist without the help of one Texas Ranger. John Malkovich’s oddly placed role in the movie is really a glorified cameo.

Written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, “One Ranger” not only has subpar acting and poorly staged action scenes, it also has a barrage of cringeworthy dialogue. The movie foreshadows how horrible it’s going to be with a captioned statement in the introduction that says: “In 1896, Texas Ranger Captain William ‘Bill’ McDonald arrived in Dallas to quell the riot expected to an accompany an illegal heavyweight fight. Seeing MacDonald alone, the mayor asked where the other lawmen were, McDonald replied, ‘Hell, ain’t I enough?’ One riot, one ranger.”

This hokey statement is supposed to be the excuse for why the entire movie is about how only one Texas Ranger is needed to take down an elusive international terrorist. The Texas Ranger in this case is Alex Tyree (played by Jane), a rough-and-tumble character who is nothing but a hollow stereotype, as are almost all the characters in this creatively bankrupt film. “One Ranger” viewers will learn nothing about who Alex really is as a person. He might as well be a robot.

Alex is first seen in a shootout involving the arrest of Tom Worth (played by Gregory Zaragoza), because Tom has violated his parole. Tom is being accused of assault, brandishing a firearm in a public place, and stealing a horse, a rifle and whiskey from Tom’s employer. Alex snarls at Tom: “Try to run, I’ll kill you … You’re just more trash in Terlingua County, like me.”

Alex and Tom are in a desert area. Out of nowhere, a gunman shows up and tries to hold Tom hostage, but the the gunman runs away when he sees that Alex is a skilled shooter. Later, Alex is seen getting into a confrontation with a generic FBI agent with the last name Derby (played by Spencer Collins), who gets punched in the face by Alex. We get it. Alex likes to intimidate criminals and federal agents.

One day, Alex gets a visit from someone who describes herself as an agent from “British intelligence.” She won’t say the word “MI6,” but everything in the movie indicates that she’s from MI6. Her name is Jennifer Smith (played by Dominique Tipper), who informs Alex that she needs his help in catching an international terrorist who has shown an extraordinary ability to evade capture. Why was Alex chosen? Jennifer says Alex has a reputation for being the best Texas Ranger to catch fugitives.

The terrorist is Declan McBride (played by Dean Jagger), whom Jennifer describes as an “ex-provisional IRA wanted for a string of terrorist activities on and off the British mainland.” She also describes Declan and “vicious” and “resourceful.” Jennifer says that to get money, Declan charges a “small fee” to rob banks. He then passes on the proceeds from his robberies “to the worst criminal causes imaginable.”

Jennifer has gotten a tip that Declan is planning a big job in Great Britain, and he might or might not be hiding in a part of Mexico that’s close to the Texas border. The rest of “One Ranger” alternates between showing Declan and showing Alex (with Jennifer sometimes accompanying him) in this fugitive pursuit. There are several uninteresting, time-wasting scenes in the tedious buildup to the predictable final showdown.

Alex goes to London at one point to meet Jennifer’s boss: a prickly cynic named Geddes (played by Malkovich), who talks in a weird cadence and sounds like he’s slurring his words. Don’t be fooled by Malkovich sharing headline billing with Jane for this movie. Malkovich’s screen time in the 95-minute “One Ranger” is less than 10 minutes.

The movie has a few boring scenes of Declan meeting with a terrorist crony named Yuri the Cossack (played by Nick Moran, doing a terrible Eastern European accent), a character that doesn’t add anything substantial to the story. Declan is shown having relationship problems with his disheveled and angry lover Angel (played by Rachel Wilde), who has one glass eye and who gets drunk a lot. Declan also has a muscular protector named Oleg Jakovenko (played by Jess Liaudin), who has a stereotypical brutish role.

Tipper makes some effort to bring some spark to her performance as Jennifer, but Jane is just going through the expected motions for his robotic Alex character. Jagger (who is American in real life) does a very questionable Northern Irish accent as Declan. Everyone else in the cast is easily forgettable because their characters are so banal. “One Ranger” is the kind of “one and done” movie that only needs to be watched once, and it will be probably be followed by the feeling that the time could have been spent watching a much better film.

Lionsgate released “One Ranger” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 5, 2023. The movie will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 13, 2023.

Review: ‘Kandahar’ (2023), starring Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Ali Fazal, Bahador Foladi, Nina Toussaint-White, Vassilis Koukalani and Travis Fimmel

May 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban in “Kandahar” (Photo by Hopper Stone, SMPSP/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Kandahar” (2023)

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Some language in Persian, Arabic and Urdu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the mid-2010s in Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, the action film “Kandahar” features a white and Middle Eastern cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish military-trained operative, on loan from MI6, works undercover with the CIA to stop terrorism in the Middle East, but his cover is blown, and he and an interpreter must find their way to safety at an extraction point in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Culture Audience: “Kandahar” will primarily appeal to people who are fans of star Gerard Butler and formulaic and forgettable action movies about fighting terrorists in the Middle East.

Bahador Foladi and Nina Toussaint-White in “Kandahar” (Photo by Hopper Stone, SMPSP/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Kandahar” gets awfully convoluted and takes too long to get to the main mission in the story. The film editing is sloppy, while the action scenes are unremarkable. The movie’s worst idea is the secret CIA surveillance room that gets unrealistic footage. It’s yet another violent action flick about stopping terrorists in the Middle East, with a predictable protagonist who’s “rough around the edges” heroic. The problem is that “Kandahar” gets so distracted with subplots, the movie just ends up being a formulaic mush of chase scenes, explosions and fights in Middle Eastern locations.

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Mitchell LaFortune, “Kandahar” seems very impressed with itself in showing all the international locations where the story is supposed to take place, but there’s very little character development in all of this nation-hopping. The movie, which takes place in the mid-2010s, jumps back and forth to scenes that are supposed to take place in Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. “Kandahar” was actually filmed in Saudi Arabia.

The first 30 minutes of the two-hour “Kandahar” is like watching a racing car spin its wheels and not getting anywhere. A lot of viewers who watch “Kandahar” without knowing anything about it in advance will be wondering during these first 30 minutes exactly what this movie is going to be about. The movie’s first 30 minutes are a very long setup to show that Tom Harris (played by Gerard Butler), a gruff and tough undercover operative originally from Scotland, is on loan from MI6 to the CIA. He’s embedded as part of a CIA mission to destroy Iran’s nuclear program before Iran has a chance to build a catastrophic bomb.

The opening scene shows Tom and a CIA operative named Oliver Altman (played by Tom Rhys Harries) getting detained by Iranian soldiers in a desert in Qom, Iran. Tom and Oliver are posing as service employees for a company named SIBLIXT Communications, and they have a SIBLIXT Communications van as part of their cover. When Oliver and Tom are questioned by the suspicious soldiers, Tom (who is seen as the bigger threat) and Oliver insist that they were hired by the Iranian government to work on telephone lines so that the city of Qom can have better Internet connectivity.

It all looks so phony, because this setting is in a remote desert area, with no telephone lines in sight. Tom and Oliver being obvious Westerners are also big indications that they’re not who they say they are. They might as well be wearing T-shirts that say “Undercover Operatives From a Western Nation.” Tom shows the interior of the van to the soldiers, in order to prove that Tom and Oliver have no weapons. Tom also shows them some video footage on his cell phone to “prove” that there’s Internet service in the area.

Even though none of this proves that Tom and Oliver are who they say they, the soldiers let Tom and Oliver go anyway. Oliver and Tom drive away with some relief and pride that the soldiers believed their story. The only purpose of this scene is to show viewers that Tom has the skills to talk his way out of tricky situations with dimwitted soldiers.

Meanwhile, a British journalist named Luna Cujai (played by Nina Toussaint-White) is seen getting some photos emailed to her from a U.S. Pentagon contact named James. These photos are irrefutable evidence that the CIA is involved in covert operations that are usually not sanctioned by the government (also known as black ops), and this activity is happening in Iran and other parts of the Middle East. Luna has a phone conversation with a supervisor to tell this boss that she has uncovered some bombshell information.

“It’s a bigger scandal than [Edward] Snowden and WikiLeaks combined,” Luna excitedly tells her supervisor. She then sends the incriminating evidence to her boss, who is never seen on camera. And when a journalist in a movie about fighting terrorism uncovers something that could be an international scandal, it’s easy to predict that the journalist is going to be in some peril at some point in the movie. As already shown in the trailer for “Kandahar,” Luna gets kidnapped.

Tom’s main CIA contact in the Middle East is another undercover operative named Roman Chalmers (played by Travis Fimmel), an American who is mostly seen having secretive phone conversations while dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb. Roman’s big action scenes don’t come until much later in the movie. What looks very fake about many of Roman’s phone conversation scenes is that he discusses classified information while walking around in public, as if no one else can eavesdrop on these public conversations.

And it wouldn’t be a typical Gerard Butler action movie without part of the plot being about his “hero” character having a race against time to get home safely to a family member. In the case of Tom, he has promised his soon-to-be ex-wife Corrine Harris (played by Rebecca Calder) that he will be back in the United Kingdom in time go to the high-school graduation ceremony of their daughter Ida Harris (played by Olivia-Mai Barrett), who wants to become a doctor.

During a phone conversation between Tom and Corrine, she says that she wants Tom to sign their divorce papers. Corrine tells him that she has a new man in her life but doesn’t go into further details. Corrine suggests that, for Ida’s sake, Tom should find a safer line of work, such as teaching. Tom replies, “I’m not really interested in sitting behind a desk all day.”

Meanwhile, Roman has hired an Iranian interpreter named Mohammad “Mo” Doud (played by Navid Negahban) to work with Tom for their undercover mission. Mo needs the money, but he has another motivation to do this potentially dangerous job. Mo eventually tells Tom that Mo blames the Taliban for the death of his son Amin, who was Mo’s only child. In a movie like “Kandahar,” the odds are very high that Mo will come face-to-face with the man who murdered Amin.

Mo is also looking for the missing sister of his wife Adila Doud (played by Reem AlHabib), who is a typical “worried wife at home” character that’s very common in macho movies like “Kandahar,” where only men are seen in combat. Mo’s search for his missing sister-in-law is yet another subplot that gets thrown into the movie, only to be mishandled and lost in the overall muddled story. Expect to hear Tom give multiple apologies to Mo for various screw-ups and deliberate miscommunications that are in the movie just to create more drama.

“Kandahar” has generic depictions of the CIA and Tom’s opponents. A meeting between the Taliban Shura leadership with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) at I.S.I. headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan, is plunked into the movie like a soulless and drab corporate meeting, with characters who are mostly nameless. The movie makes little effort to have memorable antagonists to the “heroes.”

There’s a cold-blooded Iranian government operative leader named Bashar Hamadani (played by Vassilis Koukalani), a Taliban ally, who orders the kidnapping of Luna, when he finds out that she has valuable information about CIA operations in Iran and elsewhere. Farzad Asadi (played by Bahador Foladi), who is Bashar’s loyal subordinate, is the main person who interrogates Luna when she’s in captivity. A ruthless assassin named Kahil (played by Ali Fazal) is supposed to be a rising star in the Taliban, but he comes and goes in the movie with all the personality of a cardboard cutout.

And the CIA officers giving orders and making leadership decisions are equally lacking in distinctive personalities. Mark Lowe (played by Mark Arnold) and Chris Hoyt (played by Corey Johnson) are the bland CIA officials who are given the most screen time. Mark and Chris do a lot of monitoring in a secret CIA room with giant video screens. This secret room has inexplicably perfect aerial views of whatever fight scenes or chases are going with the CIA operatives on the ground, even though there are no drones in the sky during these scenes to explain how the CIA is getting this video footage.

The secret CIA room can also pick up audio with pristine sound levels when people are giving chase or are being chased in the same scene. In other words, the CIA can listen in on what’s being said during these chase scenes. Who knew that the CIA could somehow plant invisible microphones on the Taliban in the middle of a chase scene that’s usually in a remote desert? And it’s all filmed for the CIA from the air and sometimes in the vehicles that are involved in the chase.

Because yes, “Kandahar” wants viewers to believe that the CIA has all this magical surveillance equipment to monitor CIA operatives and opponents, but the CIA can’t figure out how to get Tom and Mo to safety when Tom’s cover is blown because the information that journalist Luna uncovered is leaked to the Taliban. Tom and Mo’s only hope for safety is to reach an extraction point in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but there comes a point in the movie when Tom and Mo are left to figure out how to get there on their own. Somehow, the CIA’s magical surveillance room isn’t going to work to find Tom and Mo, because there would be no “Kandahar” movie if Tom and Mo weren’t left stranded in the desert with Taliban soldiers chasing after them, which is the movie’s main dramatic hook.

The acting performances in “Kandahar” aren’t terrible, but they’re not great either. That’s because almost everyone in the movie is written like a video game character. Negahban’s performance as Mo is the exception, since there’s real depth to his portrayal of the Mo character, who has more at stake in trying to stay alive than making it on time to a child’s graduation ceremony. Hollywood movies almost never have characters like Mo as the central protagonists. The type of suffering that Mo lives with is just too real for make-believe films that want to perpetuate myths about a certain stereotypical character who is almost always the main hero of the story.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “Kandahar” on U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

Review: ‘Pichaikkaran 2,’ starring Vijay Antony, Kavya Thapar and Dev Gill

May 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vijay Antony in “Pichaikkaran 2” (Photo courtesy of Vijay Antony Film Corporation)

“Pichaikkaran 2”

Directed by Vijay Antony

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chennai, India, the sci-fi action film “Pichaikkaran 2” (a stand-alone sequel to 2016’s “Pichaikkaran”) features an all-South-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An evil and greedy businessman, who wants to get rid his rival brother, abducts a street beggar so that the brains of the beggar and the businessman’s brother can be switched through a secret surgery.

Culture Audience: “Pichaikkaran 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an overly long and terribly made movie about greed and swapping human brains through transplants.

Dev Gill in “Pichaikkaran 2” (Photo courtesy of Vijay Antony Film Corporation)

“Pichaikkaran 2” is a sorry excuse for a sequel. This long-winded sci-fi action flick has a terribly conceived plot about brain swapping. This time-wasting junk ironically lacks any brain-power intelligence. The only real brain damage is to the brain cells of viewers who watch this idiotic film.

Written and directed by Vijay Antony, “Pichaikkaran 2” is a sequel to the 2016 film “Pichaikkaran,” which is superior to this sequel in every single way. (The word “pichaikkaran” means “beggar” in Tamil.) The main thing that these vastly different movies have in common is that Vijay Antony has the title starring role in both movies. “Pichaikkaran” was written and directed by Sasi. Antony makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Pichaikkaran 2,” which Antony co-wrote with K Palani and Paul Antony.

In “Pichaikkaran 2” (which takes place in Chennai, India), a wealthy businessman named Vijay Gurumoorthy (played by Antony) is the heir leader to his family’s business, after the family patriarch (Vijay’s father) has died. Vijay’s evil and greedy younger brother Aravind (played by Dev Gill) convinces a reluctant Vijay to keep their father’s death a secret for about a month. Aravind tells Vijay that they need this secrecy so that the company’s stocks don’t go down and so that they have time to prepare for the transition to new leadership.

In reality, Aravind want this month to prepare for a dastardly plan to get rid of Vijay and take over the business. Aravind has heard about a revolutionary surgery that can do human brain transplants. This surgery is an outlawed medical procedure, since the worldwide medical community has issues with the ethics of human brain transplants.

A rogue surgeon named Dr. Shiva (played by Hareesh Peradi) is an advocate of this surgery and has given media interviews saying that this surgery should be legal because it could prolong people’s lives. Aravind tells M. Krishna Iyer (played by Y. G. Mahendran), the loyal secretary of this deceased business mogul, to find Dr. Shiva, who is brought to a secret meeting with Aravind and Krishna. Dr. Shiva is eager to perform this surgery, for the right price.

After Aravind is convinced that this surgery would really work, he hires Dr. Shiva and tells him to wait and see who will be the two people who will have their brains swapped. Aravind then has Vijay kidnapped. Aravind viciously beats and kicks Vijay into unconsciousness. And it just so happens there’s an impoverished beggar named Sathya (also played by Antony), who is a look-alike to Vijay. Sathya, who grew up as a poor orphan, is also kidnapped and made unconscious through violent ways.

Two look-alike people and a brain-swapping plot? You know what this means, of course. Vijay and Sathya end up in a secret operating room, where their brains are swapped. When they both wake up, the body of Vijay has the mind of Sathya, while the body of Sathya has the mind of Vijay. Sathya and Vija still have long-term memories, so they can vividly remember their past.

Avarind’s plan is to kill the body of Sathya (which has Vijay’s mind) and keep the body of Vijay (which has Sathya’s mind), to use as a decoy, so that people will think Vijay is still alive. Avarind thinks that this “fake Vijay” (who has Sathya’s mind) will be such an incompetent leader, the “fake Vijay” will be ousted from the company, giving Avarind a clear path to take over the family business. The problem with this conspiracy is that Sathya, whose mind is in now in the body of Vijay, remembers his real past and isn’t afraid to say so. Even though some people think Sathya is mentally ill for saying he’s trapped in the wrong body, Sathya (in Vijay’s body) is determined to find out why he’s now being told that he is Vijay and has to live Vjay’s life.

After this secret brain-transplant surgery takes place, Vijay’s loyal and loving girlfriend Hema (played by Kavya Thapar), who also works for the company, begins to grow suspicious about the way the “fake Vijay” has been acting, because this “fake Vijay” doesn’t remember a lot of things about their relationship. Will she discover the secret? Will Avarind get away with his moronic scheme? It should come as no surprise that Sathya (in Vijay’s body) is not as gullible and passive as Avarind thinks Sathya should be.

This bloated 148-minute film stretches out the very thin plot with a lot of phony-looking fight scenes and cringeworthy musical numbers. Everything about “Pichaikkaran 2” reeks of mindless filmmaking with a big budget. How stupid is the dialogue in “Pichaikkaran 2”? Aravind repeats the redundant phrase that Vijay is worth “millions and billions.” The acting in this movie is mostly horrendous. The film editing (by Antony) is choppy and amateurish. Antony also wrote the bombastic musical score for “Pichaikkaran 2,” which blasts the music in obnoxious volume levels.

Although “Pichaikkaran 2” tries to make Vijay look like he’s a desirable and admirable person, he’s actually quite terrible. There’s a scene early in the movie (before the brain-transplant surgery takes place), when Hema questions Vijay’s decision to keep his father’s death a secret for a month. In response, Vijay hits Hema hard in the face. It’s all just an exploitative set-up to make the mind of altruistic and compassionate Sathya the better choice for the body of Vijay. Sathya also has a side to him that is a ruthless vigilante, which is the movie’s excuse to have a lot of violent scenes of Sathya as an “action hero.”

Along the way, “Pichaikkaran 2” has a lot of preaching about Anti-Bikili, a social movement that’s against greed, corruption and arrogance about money. There’s also a treacly subplot about Sathya looking for his long-lost sister Rani, who was separated from him in their childhood, when they were sent to different foster homes. “Pichaikkaran 2” is just a horribly made vanity project from Antony. The only real “begging” for “Pichaikkaran 2” is when disastisfied viewers see how bad this trash-dump movie is and beg for it to be over.

Vijay Antony Film Corporation released “Pichaikkaran 2” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 19, 2023.

Review: ‘The Machine’ (2023), starring Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Jimmy Tatro, Iva Babić, Stephanie Kurtzuba and Jess Gabor

May 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mark Hamill and Bert Kreischer in “The Machine” (Photo by Aleksandar Letic/Screen Gems)

“The Machine” (2023)

Directed by Peter Atencio

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Russia and in the United States, the action comedy film “The Machine” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Rude and crude American comedian Bert “The Machine” Kreischer and his father are kidnapped and brought to Russia by Russian criminals, who want Bert to find a valuable watch that they claim he stole 23 years earlier, when Bert was a partying college student visiting Russia. 

Culture Audience: “The Machine” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Kreischer, but even they might find this relentlessly idiotic and dull movie very hard to take.

Iva Babić and Bert Kreischer in “The Machine” (Photo by Aleksandar Letic/Screen Gems)

Crude, boring and obnoxiously stupid, “The Machine” repeatedly misfires and malfunctions as a showcase for stand-up comedian Bert “The Machine” Kreischer, who portrays a version of himself in his first starring movie role. Kreischer is also a producer of this grossly incompetent action comedy, released by Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Screen Gems. “The Machine” might have this corporate-owned movie studio as a distributor, but this junkpile film is worse than the most amateur, low-budget independent films that you could ever see.

Directed by Peter Atencio, “The Machine” has no creativity, no style and no charm. It stumbles around in repetitive scenarios and spews out deeply unfunny “jokes” that sound like ideas that would be rejected at low-rent comedy clubs. Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes wrote the putrid screenplay for “The Machine,” which is proof that if you throw enough money around, untalented garbage can be made into a terrible movie. “The Machine” also has very unimaginative stereotypes of Russian mobsters. These lazy clichés quickly become tiresome.

“The Machine” doesn’t have much of a plot. The movie’s opening scene shows a Russian mobster boss named Igor (played by Nikola Djuricko) watching controversial stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer (whose persona is being a politically incorrect, drinking-and-drugging blowhard) doing a stand-up routine on TV. Igor becomes incensed and yells at the screen: “I want what you stole, Machine!” The enraged gangster than destroys the TV by shooting a gun at it.

A sloppily filmed montage near the beginning of the movie shows that Bert is having a meltdown in his career and in his personal life. Bert almost got his teenage daughter Sasha (played by Jess Gabor) arrested for something that was actually his fault. He’s such a terrible father, he livestreamed Sasha getting detained by police. As a result of the backlash, Bert took a hiatus from social media and cancelled his comedy tour.

Bert is smug and defiant during a family therapy session in the office of their therapist (played by Brian Caspe), who looks like he would rather be anywhere else but forced to be in a room with this lunkhead. Also in the therapy session are Bert’s long-suffering wife LeeAnn (played by Stephanie Kurtzuba), their obedient tween daughter Tatiana (played by Amelie Child Villiers) and a sulking Sasha. Bert congratulates himself for not calling anyone in the room the “c” word (as in “cunt”), even if he thinks they deserve to be called that word.

Back at home, Bert continues to heap praise on himself, by bragging to his family that he hasn’t done anything publicly embarrassing in three months. What does he want? A medal? Kreischer is married with two daughters in real life. This stinker of a movie is surely going to be an embarrassment for the entire family. Kreischer’s real-life wife (who really does have the name LeeAnn Kreischer) is also one of the producers of “The Machine,” which means she got suckered into sinking some of her own money into this irredeemable flop.

Bert wants to look like he’s sorry for what he’s done to Sasha, so he throws a big 16th birthday party for her at the family home. The problem is that party isn’t really about Sasha. It’s about Bert showing off. Sasha doesn’t even know most of the people whom Bert invited to the party. It just leads to Sasha having more resentment for her selfish father. To put on a façade that he’s “cleaned up his act,” Bert decided not have any alcohol served at the party, which is attended mostly by adults.

Here’s an example of the rotten “comedy” in “The Machine”: One of the party guests is a family friend named Madison (played by Tea Wagner), who is in the process of getting a divorce. Madison asks Bert in an annoyed voice about the lack of alcohol at the party: “No booze?” Bert replies, “Hey, Madison: No husband?” And then, he mutters underneath his breath: “Fucking bitch.”

Soon, it will be Bert’s turn to get annoyed, when his estranged father Albert Kreischer (played by Mark Hamill) shows up unannounced at the party. Bert is bitter because he thinks Albert has been an inattentive father for most of Bert’s life. Albert, who lives in Florida, owns a carpet company called Kreischer Karpets. Albert thinks that Bert’s career as a comedian is probably over, so he offers Bert a job at the carpet company. It’s an offer that Bert abruptly refuses.

There’s another uninvited guest who shows up at the party. She’s a Russian mob enforcer named Irina (played by Iva Babić, in a very campy performance), who works for Igor. Irina tells Bert that she’s there to get a pocket watch that Bert stole on a train 23 years ago, when he was a 25-year-old college student visiting Russia on a school trip. Bert denies knowing anything about this pocket watch.

However, Bert and Albert get kidnapped by Irina and her goons anyway and are taken by private plane to Russia. (“The Machine” was actually filmed in Serbia.) Irina says that while Bert is in Russia, his daughters will be under surveillance by some of her cronies. Irina warns Bert that if he doesn’t do what he’s told, then his daughters will be harmed. Irina’s cronies are mostly forgettable and generic, except for Irina’s bodyguard: a hulking dolt named Sponge (played by Martyn Ford), who immediately clashes with Bert.

The rest of “The Machine” is nothing but a slog of dimwitted dialogue and fake-looking fight scenes. There are some tedious flashbacks showing college-age Bert (played by Jimmy Tatro) and his shenanigans in Russia. In the flashbacks, there’s a useless subplot involving Bert treating his classmate Ashley (played by Rita Bernard-Shaw), who’s a potential love interest for Bert, like a subservient maid. It’s not a good look, considering Ashley is the only non-white character who has a speaking role in the movie. (Rachel Momcilov portrays the present-day Ashley.)

Kreischer is utterly cringeworthy as an actor and has no charisma on screen. All of the movie’s other performances range from mediocre to unwatchable. Hamill often looks like he regrets signing up for this cesspool of a movie, and he puts no credible effort in his performance. How did he end up in this tacky mess? Did the “Star Wars” franchise not pay Hamill enough money?

There’s no other way to put it: “The Machine” is a complete failure in every single way. It’s yet another example of how being a famous stand-up comedian doesn’t automatically mean that the comedian has what it takes to be a movie star. “The Machine” should have been put out of commission before it was even made.

Screen Gems released “The Machine” in U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

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