At first glance, ASA Productions' and Vision Jeeva Studios' Tamil movie Muthirai (Stamp or Mark) seems to have everything going for it: great production values, cool songs by Yuvan Shankar Raja and a stylish storyline that actually might have some semblance of logic. Halfway through the film though, you begin to realise that despite a rather nice cast, comedian-turned-director Srinath seems to have lost track of whatever Hollywood screenplay he burglarised and settled down with a half-baked desi version.
The pace is set briskly with the entrance of Azhagar Adhiyaman (Saravanan) the Chief Minister, his brother Thondai Adhiyaman (Anand) and chief aide Adhi Kesavan (Ponvannan), all entering a fierce discussion about who's about to gain more power -- bodyguard Riyaz Khan is also in attendance. But then, in a flurry of activity, everything goes haywire as the Chief Minister ends up dead, while the aide and brother are shot.
Enter storyline two: with his trademark staccato-style dialogue delivery, arty-cool rocker look (complete with tattoos which would make him recognisable anywhere) is Daniel Balaji as the slick conman who carries out capers (except that none of his high-profile heists are really shown -- just a montage of his smoking a cigarette and collecting money). Then there's Sathya (Nitin Sathya) right at the other end of the spectrum -- a petty thief who's run away from home, enters a posh nightclub in Chennai, and dances to the very catchy Night is Still Young song with Rakhi Sawant. He sheds a few drops of blood on behalf of Azhagu and wham! -- the two are best friends.
Soon, they know all about each other's love interests: Azhagu's beloved Kavya (Lakshmi Roy) a bar-dancer who wears bikini tops and reveals plenty of cleavage, but still refuses to pander to rich men (!) and hates Azhagu into the bargain, and Sathya's girl, Aarthi (Manjari Phadnis), who falls for his tall story of being a CBI Officer. Everything's hunky-dory, and you're treated to interesting glimpses of the contrasting characters of Azhagu and Sathya -- one is taciturn, intelligent and quiet; the other is cocky, saucy and obviously a lover-boy.
It gets better as we're introduced to a new, unknown element: Azhagu's neighbour Krishnan, a mysterious man who barely speaks two words at a time and snaps Sathya's nose off. And he plays his part at the intermission: when the police commissioner (Kishore, looking tall and handsome) tracks him down, he runs for his life, unwittingly setting the authorities onto the tracks of our four protagonists.
So far, so good. You expect the story to get tauter, exploring characterizations and unique twists -- but all you get is two heroines trotting around in an unbelieving tribal village in designer dresses. Everyone plots and counter-plots; logic is thrown out of the window, accounts are hacked at will, computers and cell-phones are in continual use despite the absence of electricity for days together, and an explosive climax follows where everyone shoots at everyone else.
It should have made you cling to the edge of your seat, but it doesn't.
Songs are interspersed in a silly fashion; they have no business at all in a thriller. Lakshmi Roy shows plenty of skin in shiny bikini tops even as she and her lover are desperately trying to evade the police. Manjari Phadnis, however, is marginally better -- she shines when she's yelled at by her father. A pity that neither heroine has anything more to do. Saleem's camera, however, seems to have done them both and the locales full justice. Art Director Thotta Tharani has gone to town with Daniel Balaji's apartment but the tribal village simply doesn't fit. Siva and Rajasekar have done their best with the fight-scenes, while the lip-sync is off at certain moments.
Even if Daniel Balaji's monotonous dialogues seem tedious after a point, you can't deny that the man has presence, and a certain style. You wish he'd been given a stronger storyline. Nithin Sathya has done these supposedly smart, yet rather naïve roles before -- there's nothing new here. Both deserve better. Kishore impresses you with his personality; Ponvannan is a joy to watch as well. Kochin Hanifa and Anandand Saravanan have been wasted.
Had Srinath and writer/creative director Anees Tanveer stuck with their original 'inspirations', you'd have had a taut action thriller on your hands. What remains now, though, is a rather half-baked movie which leaves you dissatisfied -- its potential from the first half is wasted in the second.