Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: COMMANDO - A ONE MAN ARMY Sings, Dances And Kicks You In The Face
Vidyut Jamwal stands to take the martial arts world by storm after a dynamic breakout performance here as the titular one man army in Dilip Ghosh's ridiculous but hugely entertaining Commando.
When a routine training exercise goes wrong, leaving paratrooper commando Karan (Jamwal) stranded on the wrong side of the India-China border, his government is quick to disavow him and avoid an international incident. After enduring a year of brutal torture at the hands of the Chinese, Karan escapes only to cross paths with the beautiful Simrit (Pooja Chopra). With both the Chinese and Indian governments on his tail, Karan vents his anger at the politicians who screwed him over by waging a one-man war against AK 74 (Jaideep Ahlawat), the corrupt local official trying to force Simrit into a marriage that will further extend his tyrannical reign.
A former male model, Vidyut Jamwal burst onto Indian screens in the 2011 film, Force, winning awards and critical praise for his scene stealing turn as the film's villain. Since then Jamwal has dabbled both in Tollywood and Kollywood productions, but Commando - A One Man Army marks his first lead role in a mainstream Bollywood production. And it proves one hell of a calling card. Jamwal appears to have developed a unique fighting style that combines elements of kung-fu and jujitsu, with Indian martial art kalaripayattu, dance and acrobatics. The outcome is a fantastically agile combination of jumps, spins, kicks and grappling moves that prove incredibly cinematic.
In its broadest strokes - and this is a film where subtlety has no place - Commando follows the path of Ted Kotcheff's original Rambo flick, First Blood (1982), with the war-scarred hero retreating to the woods and engaging with an army of trigger happy local officials using his keenly honed survival skills. This being a Bollywood movie, however, the action is injected with plenty of comedic moments and a strong through line of romance, as Karan must take feisty city girl Simrit along for the ride.
Jaideep Ahlawat is ridiculously over the top as the villainous AK 74, who gleefully murders anybody standing between him and absolute power, and sometimes innocent bystanders too. Without it impairing his sight, AK was born with milky white eyeballs and never lets the opportunity go by to whip off his sunglasses in emphatic fashion to intimidate his enemies. (In fact, at last night's Fantastic Fest screening an impromptu drinking game quickly materialised, with participants taking a drink every time AK reveals the whites of his eyes. I lost count after the 15th time.)
Production values across the board are strong, with first-time director Dilip Ghosh making fantastic use of the woodland locations (as well as some spectacular desert and temple settings during the musical numbers). There is perhaps too much time given over to the romantic subplot or repetitive machinations of AK and his cohorts, but when Ghosh does allow his new leading man to take centre stage, the film really delivers. During the opening credits the audience is informed that Jamwal performed all his stunts without the use of doubles or wires, which only whets our appetites all the more for the displays of skill and agility to come. And while there are occasional moments when Ghosh could have benefitted from moving his camera back a few more feet and letting the fights play out in a single take, it is impossible to hide Jamwal's obvious talents.
On the basis of Commando - A One Man Army, Vidyut Jamwal clearly has the chops to make it on the international circuit as a screen fighter, to be uttered in the same breath as the likes of Marko Zaror, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. It remains to be seen if martial arts aficionados are willing to embrace an action hero who sings and dances as willingly and competently as he fights, but there can be no denying the man's talents in any of these departments. He ain't ugly either.