An Action Hero's oil and water combination of genres doesn't always gel, gets overly far-fetched in places but still holds up on the strength of whimsy and surprise, notes Sukanya Verma.
While reviewing In Bruges, late film critic Roger Ebert wrote, 'a film that seems to happen as it goes along.'
It's what Anirudh Iyer's directorial debut fancies itself to be as the action shifts from a small village in Haryana to south of England. Except in place of gangsters caught in an existential crisis, An Action Hero swings back and forth between a black crime comedy and a spoofy satire on the media's self-appointed moral police as well as the business of manufacturing and marketing news.
An Action Hero's oil and water combination of genres doesn't always gel, gets overly far-fetched in places but still holds up on the strength of whimsy and surprise.
It has something pertinent to say about celebrity media trials and the ongoing boycott culture afflicting Bollywood even if it's a few drafts underwritten.
There are some cheeky ideas in there, some cunning humour too.
But it's all too choppily put together to render its circle of crime that jubilant feeling when the moment of vindication finally arrives.
Ayushmann Khurrana takes a break from social service duties to slip under the skin of a Bollywood daredevil.
Although his Maanav holds his designer sunglasses dear and flaunts his chiseled torso at the drop of hat, he likes to think before he fights.
Clearly, the man does his own stunts given how well he fares later on in the absence of choreographed action sequences.
Over the course of the movie, he emerges more of a behind-the-scenes guy in charge of his own dialogue and destiny.
When we first see Maanav, he's detained and doing planks while handcuffed in a British secret service facility. How tables turn from a responsible youth icon rejecting a mobster biopic to internationally sought criminal is the movie.
Back in Haryana, a scuffle between Maanav and a local Jatt politician's sibling sporting a Wrogn T-shirt spirals out of control.
Money being no issue, Maanav takes a leaf out of (Vijay) Mallya and Nirav (Modi)'s book and flees to UK even as the latter's temperamental big brother Bhoora (Jaideep Ahlawat) bays for his blood.
Before their game of hide-and-seek kickstarts, An Action Hero comically glimpses at the jumbled law and order and snoopy local journalism of the region.
Witch hunt for Maanav by TRP-hungry anchors remains its steady focus even as the man of the hour negotiates his way out of a spate of misadventures in foreign land.
These tonal shifts between crime and comedy are as jumpy as the movie’s propensity to dive into a lengthy car chase or forced face-offs.
An Action Hero has a rhythm about it, but no song.
Too many of its jokes, amusing as they are -- like the difference between DoP and DCP -- appear out of context.
Caricatures of shrill news anchors from Hindi and English media, accurate as they may be, are long past novelty.
But it sure is droll to watch a Bollywood action hero consulting the industry’s original Khiladi in one of the more inspired moments in the movie. How insanely meta would the joke be if only the plane was flying to Canada.
Iyer's taunting wit alludes to a lot of gossip churned out by the fourth estate but takes little notice of the obvious parallels between Maanav's professional and personal reality.
Where the media circus goes overboard demonising him, An Action Hero's need to emphasise on his virtues -- refusing to pass the buck to his subordinates, helping strangers with their broken down cars -- borders on heavy-handedness. His newfound grit based on overnight epiphanies has little to back it up.
Despite these irregularities, Ayushmann Khurrana conveys an acumen for the role.
He keeps the momentum going even as the story takes a lot of convoluted turns interspersed in industry myths, hearsay and in-jokes.
It's a bonkers third act, but the actor sets forth its touché potential to the hilt.
Always a good choice for prickly characters, Jaideep Ahlawat's mastery in dour face and dry wit is well known.
Too bad its terribly confused characterisation dumbs him down into a programmed hitman.
An Action Man simply cannot decide whether his objective is vendetta or voicing fan-star obligations.
Any time an opportunity for some exciting existential conversation between these two men, as two sides of the same coin, presents itself, Iyer opts for a less complicated chase-and-combat routine.
An Action Hero could flex a lot more than muscles, but An Action Hero is all it wants to be.