REVIEW: “Beast” (2022)

No, this isn’t the ‘Idris Elba vs. a man-eating lion’ movie (that “Beast” comes out in a couple of months). This “Beast” is the Bollywood action-comedy from writer-director Nelson Dilipkumar (who simply goes by Nelson). The film stars Vijay, one of India’s highest paid actors with over 65 movies to his credit. Here he plays a former government agent who goes one-on-one with a terrorist group who takes over a shopping mall. Plenty of action ensues.

Vijay plays Veera, an ex-RAW agent who someone in the movie actually describes as the “Indian James Bond”. Veera quit RAW after a mission goes terribly wrong, resulting in the death of a young child. Eleven months pass and a traumatized Veera is still experiencing PTSD. Obviously nothing about any of that sounds remotely humorous and you may be wondering how this could be an ‘action-comedy’. Well, “Beast” routinely shifts gears on a dime which turns out to be both a strength and a frustration.

Case in point: Immediately after the tragedy, we see Veera getting canned by his psychologist. Afterwards the two casually bounce off to a wedding party where he meets the beautiful Preethi (Pooja Hegde). It takes a minute, but the two hit it off which leads to a big elaborate song and dance number. Now fans of Bollywood won’t be surprised as this is pretty much a signature of many of their movies. In this case, the tonal hopscotch makes it hard to take anything in “Beast” seriously.

The movie seems to want to build a relationship between Veera and Preethi. At the wedding party, we learn she is engaged to someone she hates. She has one month to “find her man and settle down” and it looks like Veera is meant to be the one. Unfortunately, Preethi quickly falls into the background almost becoming an afterthought. It’s a shame because Hegde has energy and charisma to spare.

Preethi does convince Veera to join her private security firm which is ran by the surly Dominic (VTV Ganesh). The three of them head to the East Coast Shopping Mall to discuss their contract with the manager. As they enter, Veera grows suspicious after noticing the escalators, elevators, and even the internet are all down. Within minutes, heavily armed Santa Clauses (yep) hijack the mall, sealing it shut and rigging it with explosives. With 200 civilians inside, their leader Umar (Ankur Ajit Vikal) demands the release of his brother Farooq (Lilliput) or ….you know… bad things will happen.

You know the story – bad guys take over a place but don’t realize there is a one-man army inside with them. It’s pretty conventional stuff. What makes it fun is Nelson’s keen eye for well choreographed action and Vijay’s straight-faced delivery. Together the two put together some terrific action scenes that are as silly as they are thrilling. The sweeping cameras, the intentionally gratuitous slow-motion, the brutal edginess. These scenes keep the movie entertaining.

But there are also slow patches, especially whenever the story shifts back to the police and their lackadaisical negotiations. There’s also an uninteresting and mostly unfunny side bit with a crooked Home Minister who’s in cahoots with the terrorists. These dialogue-heavy scenes drag out the runtime and keep us away from the movie’s biggest strengths.

Thankfully “Beast” has plenty of outlandish action to keep it afloat. Vijay carries himself like a bonafide star yet smartly (much like the movie) never takes himself too seriously. The movie misses an opportunity by not doing more with Hegde, and it could have easily been twenty minutes shorter. But audiences will surely come to “Beast” for the action and Nelson gives them plenty. “Beast” is now streaming on Netflix.


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