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Monkey Man: Too Much Thrown Against the Wall and Not Enough Stuck

In his feature directorial debut, Dev Patel gave us an action-packed feature with a lot of ultra-violence that also tried to delve into some contemporary social issues. Patel, who also penned the screenplay, created a film that felt like a mashup of his breakout film, the uber-dramatic Slumdog Millionaire, along with action films like Kill Bill, The Raid: Redemption, Rocky, and a splash of Hard to Kill.

The first thing that I will say is that I liked Monkey Man. It was wildly entertaining, it had a ton of action, some well-placed humor, and it also had some heart. It was trying to be more than an action film, but with that attempt came some mixed results. Sometimes action films just have to own what they are. If they’re two hours of escapism where you can watch death-defying stunt work, fight sequences that are choreographed as beautifully as any dance sequence, and indiscriminate killing of faceless lackeys who are only in the movie to increase the body count, and you own that and that’s all you try to do and are successful at it, I totally respect that and I will be on board watching your movie. Chances are, I’ll walk out of the theater satisfied and fully entertained.

However, if you’re an action film with all those elements and motifs, and you try to add a compelling story that has deep thematic elements and attempts to bring an emotional component to the film, you’d better nail it. Because if you miss, you’re left with nothing. The action won’t be entertaining enough to carry the plot, and the plot won’t be compelling enough to carry the action. Both components will feel out of place, and that is essentially what we have with Monkey Man.

Director Dev Patel gave us the kind of violent action we got in movies like The Raid: Redemption and Kill Bill. The violence was unapologetic, graphic at times, and often gratuitous, but more often than that; it was integral to the telling of the story. Screenwriter Patel also attempted to provide drama and thematic components similar to that of Slumdog Millionaire, but this is where the film fell flat. These elements felt tacked on like they didn’t belong in the movie. What’s worse is that Director Patel didn’t seem like he could decide what kind of movie he wanted to make, so he threw everything he could against the wall to see what would stick. Because the movie lacked focus, things that needed more explanation were neglected, and things that were less important got more screen time.

That said, Patel deserves a ton of credit for this film. Pulling his best Bradley Cooper impersonation, Patel starred in it and handled the directing and screenwriting. He also co-produced it, so this clearly had his fingerprints all over it. I hope that this is the first of many Dev Patel films where he directs and writes the screenplay, as I believe there was a lot of potential in this script and in the filmmaking.

The movie didn’t deliver the depth that it attempted to deliver, but it did deliver the action and entertainment value. It will be fascinating to see where Patel’s career goes from here.

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