Review: Dev Patel displays directing and action chops in ‘Monkey Man’

The film was originally set for streaming until Jordan Peele championed it.
(Universal Pictures)

Director/writer/star Dev Patel successfully takes a 180-degree turn from his romantic-comedy roots in his latest feature film “Monkey Man.”

The action-revenge movie will remind you of other films in the genre. It even references the Keanu Reeves’ franchise “John Wick,” but that doesn’t make the film any less exciting or entertaining.

During a spring movie schedule that has featured films deemed too flat for the summer — the latest “Godzilla x Kong” and “Ghostbusters” sequels — Patel, known best for his starring role in 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” serves up a winner of an action movie in his directorial debut that has the heart to lift it beyond the realm of your usual action fare.

The film was originally scheduled to go the streaming route until Jordan Peele, director of “Get Out” and “Nope,” championed the film as a producer and pushed the movie into theaters.

We the movie-going public are the benefactors.

After the masterpiece “Dune 2,” Patel’s “Monkey Man” is my next favorite film I’ve seen in theaters that opened in 2024.

The movie is gritty but slick in all the right ways, and while it will remind you of the Wick movies in certain aspects, it is a bit more grounded and yet more bloody and brutal particularly in the grim final act.

The film is set in India and delves into Hindu religious symbolism, giving it a unique flavor and a cultural perspective that stands out against the usual action film fray.

Patel’s character, Kid, is introduced as a boy enamored by the stories of Hanuman, a Hindu deity, told to him by his mother Neela,(Adithi Kalkunte). When the film flashes forward to the present, Kid, who now has scarred hands, wears a monkey mask to honor his hero while competing in an underground fight club that’s run by Tiger (Sharlto Copley), a greasy underground hood, who pays Kid to take a fall and bleed out in the pre-arranged match.

Kid’s plan is to garner a job at the King’s Club, a high-end house of ill repute, but he runs into trouble by falling for Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala) , a server there.

Kid gets jealous when the high-end clientele make untoward advances, but keeps his cool as he works toward a revenge scheme against corrupt cop Rana (Sikander Kher). When the Kid attacks Rana, his plan goes awry, placing him on the run.

The film is action-packed, deploying unusual angles and quick cuts in a manner some will find exciting while others might find confusing. A little bit goes a long way with such camera moves, but for the most part cinematographer Sharone Meir deploys enough restraint not to nauseate his viewers.

The break-neck pacing slows considerably — perhaps too much — in the second act as the Kid licks his wounds among a group led by wiseman Alpha (Vipin Sharma) before we get our obligatory action-movie training sequence.

The calm lulls you to sleep, but the bloody finale slaps you awake with mini sequence after mini sequence of brutal action.

Patel’s Kid is not the gentle soul the actor grew famous for playing in movies like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” or “Lion.” He is an avenging angel of sorts meeting out justice with violence, pain, and suffering for those whom he feels deserve it. He’s kinda like a Hindu Batman.

The muscled-up Patel makes every bit of this movie work in an effort that is worthy of a sequel if not a franchise. So far, it’s the best action movie of the year.

The movie earns its ‘R’ rating with bloody violence, adult language, and sexual content/nudity.

(R) 2 hr. 1 min.
Grade: B

New in Local Theaters – April 5, 2024

  • Monkey Man (R) 2 hr. 1 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne
  • The First Omen (R) 2 hr. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • Wicked Little Letters (R) 1 hr. 42 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle
  • Family Star (NR) 2 hr. 35 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Gone With the Wind

The Malco Razorback and Pinnacle theaters will be showing “Gone With the Wind” at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 7 in celebration of its 85th anniversary.

The 1939 epic adaptation of Margret Mitchell’s historical romance novel is definitely dated, but the sweeping love story of Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period remains engrossing.

The burning of Atlanta remains as one of the most amazing scenes ever committed to film, staged nearly perfectly by director Victor Fleming.

The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won eight, including Best Picture, Best Director for Fleming, Best Supporting Actress for the incomparable Hattie McDaniel, and Best Actress for Leigh.

Though the movie is captivating on television, it was made to be seen on the big screen.