Dev Patel’s directorial debut ‘Monkey Man’ is low-grade action mulch that might just give you a headache

Man of action: Dev Patel in ‘Monkey Man’.

MONKEY MAN *1/2 (121 minutes) MA
Whatever it is Dev Patel, a very talented actor, wants to prove with his directorial debut Monkey Man, one thing is beyond question: he knows how to administer a headache. That’s the net effect of watching this hyper-kinetic, blood-soaked action drivel.

The film is awful. Absolutely awful. Dolph Lundgren never made a movie this bad.

Monkey Man casts Patel as an unnamed everyman who earns a crust as a masked wrestler, throwing fights for payouts.

He has a score to settle from childhood over the murder of his mum and so works his way into a crime organization run by foul-mouthed matriarch Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar), intent on killing those responsible – and anyone who gets in his way.

A blood-pudding action movie mounted with such a grand lack of style, the film is a jittery dirge, becoming increasingly tedious the more ultra-violent it gets.

Cluttered storytelling saps the revenge motive of much of its potency, with po-faced references to the Hindi legend of the Hanuman coming over as unbearably pretentious babble alongside all the artless slaughter.

All the Hanuman guff is presumably there to make good on Patel’s proclamation that he sought to infuse culture into an action movie. Sounds laudable, but it;s laughable.

If only the action was rendered with some degree of grace and poise but, gosh, the film is so visually ugly it hurts to watch. Replete with bad lighting and jagged, close-up cinematography it feels like having an orbital sander pressed against your eyeballs for two hours.

Admittedly, there are a few good oners (continuous takes) but overall the film has a muddy, blurry look that has you scanning the frame for a point of focus.

The film too often feels like it’s straining to replicate the vibe of top Asian action movies a la the early John Woo ouvre (The Killer; Hard Boiled), The Raid, Time and Tide and so forth, only without the flair or the cool.

In what is presumably an attempt at cool-by-association, the film makes fleeting reference to John Wick. No sale.

In a notably bland performance, Dev Patel is simply unconvincing as an action lead, dispensing violence to major and minor thugs without distinction.

Classic action films based on a revenge quest (Death Wish, Dirty Harry, etc) understood the dynamics of cathartic violence, that it needs to be controlled and directed for it to have maximum emotional impact. Here it’s just one blurry, frenzied smackdown after another.

As a directorial debut, the film is also a tad confounding. In titles such as Lion, Slumdog Millionaire, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hotel Mumbai Patel has proved what a terrific actor he can be and the move to directing seems natural. So why did he make this low-grade action mulch?

Perhaps to turn a buck by serving the action movie demo. No crime there.

Still, here’s to seeing him star in a self-directed movie that doesn’t involve him slowly stabbing someone in the neck with his teeth on the knife handle, or bludgeoning somebody in the head 20 times.

These moments are not only unpleasant to behold, they are so gratuitous they seem borderline prurient.

Amidst all the cardboard characters, the only one of any real interest was the crime matriarch. Her backstory should have received equal screen time.

It’s interesting to note all the directors and actors mentioned in the long “thank you” list at the end. You see all these esteemed names, then wonder: what sort of advice did they offer? “Dev, baby, you haven’t slaughtered enough people in this scene.”

For what it is, the film is also too long by about half an hour. Perhaps the super self-serious, humourless tone makes the film seem longer than it actually is.