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A Blood-Soaked Hymn to Heroic Excess

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A movie directed by the berserk “Muppet Show” character known as Animal couldn’t be any more unruly than Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s new film of that title. This sporadically fun but exhausting hot mess provides 202 minutes of hyperventilating overkill for star Ranbir Kapoor as a tycoon’s favorite son whose anger-management (as well as daddy) issues are off the charts. Contrastingly notable for their absence are emotional depth, narrative cogency or non-scatological humor — lacks that much ultra-violence and a surprising amount of sexual content can only distract from so much over such a long, bombastic, shallow course. 

Nonetheless, the over-the-top intensity pushed for nearly three and a half hours is likely to impress many viewers. That’s being counted on as “Animal” opens this weekend on the largest number of U.S. screens for any Indian feature to date. 

Its combination of elaborate slaughter and a cartoonishly macho, borderline-insane hero sometimes recalls Brian De Palma’s take on “Scarface.” But this writer-director’s third film is basically a supersized version of his prior efforts, 2017’s Telugu-language surprise hit “Arjun Reddy” and its 2019 Hindi remake “Kabir Singh,” with very similar basic character dynamics. Here, instead of a brilliant surgeon with prodigious appetites and no impulse control, we’ve got the problem child of a business tycoon who similarly crashes through life like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Ranvijay Singh (Kapoor), often simply called “Hero” because even at 200+ minutes this movie has no time for subtlety, is eldest offspring to Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor), a steel and oil magnate who’s the richest man in India. As dad is usually too busy to do the honors, Vijay aka Hero appoints himself man of the house from an early age, taking this role very seriously if not at all wisely. That means, for instance, that when he learns a sister is being bullied at college, he simply storms into a lecture hall with a machine gun, then runs down the motorcycle-riding perps with his SUV. 

These antics get him sent to the U.S. for a spell. He returns no less hotheaded, promptly stealing another man’s bride (Rashmika Mandanna as Geetanjali) just before her wedding because he had a crush on her once. She doesn’t object — like everyone here, she’s simultaneously appalled and hypnotized by this towering he-man’s force of personality, which he laboriously explains in lectures about “alpha” masculinity. The film comes closest to openly ridiculing its own swaggering lifestyle fantasy when their honeymoon on a private plane he’s flying (is there anything he can’t do?!?) includes long stretches where they make love in the cabin — while no one is piloting. 

Following another stint in America, the couple return after Singh Sr. is nearly killed by unknown assassins. Needless to say, Hero immediately goes into full Seeker of Deadly Revenge mode. Drastically increasing the family’s security by drafting a small army of hitherto-estranged relatives, he uncovers hidden foes who eventually include a deceitful in-law (Siddhant Karnick), his coldblooded hatchet man (Babloo Prithiveeraj), and finally a distant cousin (Bobby Deol) acting on a grudge dating back generations. 

When “superstar” (as he’s duly billed) Kapoor and the equally pumped-up Deol go mano-a-mano for a climactic face-off on an airport tarmac in Scotland, of all places, the effect is like nothing so much as an update of the pec-tacular grapplings between bodybuilders in old Italian sword-and-sandal adventures. But most of the violence here is of a more 21st-century, gang-war type, bullets raining like confetti. The biggest such set-piece (just before an intermission title) is an enjoyably preposterous shoot-’em-up in a luxury hotel where Vijay almost singlehandedly mows down 300 assailants. This sequence also features the film’s only bit where characters actually burst into song. Otherwise, the tracks featured by a host of T-Series artists are just “background” … if you can apply that term to music with frequent massive beats played at deafening volume.

Like nearly every factor here, the songs and blood-soaked interludes alike are not without skill, but get kick-dropped into an inorganic whole uninterested in integrating them to sustained, logical or emotionally credible effect. The film has two blunt major themes: the father wound (Hero has a perpetual chip on his shoulder from dad’s childhood neglect) and “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” 

Never mind that these contrastingly weepy and gory motivations are somewhat at odds, or that they sometimes stop the hectic progress dead in its tracks for labored, accusatory and/or self-justifying debates. But they don’t even manage to unify a short-attention-spanned narrative that’s all over the map, leaving gaps and bizarre focal choices in its wake. (For example: When Vijay wakes from a coma, the movie spends inordinate time dwelling on the details of his urinary catheter.) 

Then there’s the whole issue of toxic masculinity, which Vanga’s previous efforts were decried for celebrating. “Animal” is too ridiculous to take grave offense at, but it does offer a caricature of chest-thumping masculinity, equal parts 007, Godfather, Hercules and Leatherface, that plays like the fantasy of manosphere celebrities like Andrew Tate. Our “Hero” uses a concept of innate “alpha” supremacy to defend everything from picking unnecessary fights to cheating on his wife (with Tripti Dimri as a late-arriving damsel in distress). 

Lethally reckless as his actions are, not to mention stressful for his loved ones, the film always agrees he’s in the right. After all, he’s a lion! There’s no room to pity the gazelles who must tiptoe around him. And it’s hard to know just what to make of scenes like the one in which Vijay addresses his father’s workers like a Dear Leader at a fascist rally — “Animal” constantly pushes toward self-parody, yet it seems an irony-free zone. 

The result is not boring, but it is draining, and sometimes almost awe-inspiringly dumb. Design contributions are strong, as is fight/splatter choreography of Supreme Sundar. But they aren’t really taken full advantage of by the film’s overall music-video aesthetic, which is cluttered without being especially stylish. Harshavardhan Rameshwar’s original instrumental score never shrinks from underlining every already-obvious nuance with a sonic exclamation point.

As for the performances, they too give their all, when much less would have been “more” … though that could only have happened in a different film. If crying and yelling were Olympian events, much gold would be won here. “Animal” is a beast that prides itself on serving up too much of everything, not banquet-style but more like a messy trough. Naturally, it ends with a teaser for a sequel in which we’re promised even grislier splatterifics, while beautiful women cower in terror and quivering admiration.

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