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Movie review: 'Monkey Man' proves Dev Patel worthy of 'John Wick'

Dev Patel co-write, directed and stars in "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Dev Patel co-write, directed and stars in "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, April 3 (UPI) -- The post John Wick boom has made martial artists out of interesting actors from Charlize Theron to Bob Odenkirk. Monkey Man, in theaters Friday, is Dev Patel's contribution to the genre.

Bobby (Patel) works his way up as an employee of the Kings Club so he can get close to Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher), the corrupt police chief who killed his mother. Bobby models himself after the legend of Hanuman, a monkey God in Indian lore.

Establishing his fighting credentials, Bobby plays the heel in underground fights, wearing a monkey mask. Rana's bodyguards prove to be even more formidable than Bobby's ring opponents.

The basic revenge story is sound and Monkey Man adds genre tropes from Chinese martial arts films too. The success of Monkey Man is contingent on the quality of its fights, and at those, the film succeeds.

The style Patel and his opponents employ looks very John Wicky, as producer Thunder Road Films has a hand in both. No one tops John Wick but Monkey Man is as impressive as the other aforementioned offshoots.

Dev Patel (L) and Pitobash star in "Monkey Man,." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Dev Patel (L) and Pitobash star in "Monkey Man,." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Whether screenwriters Patel, Paul Angunawela and John Collee or fight choreographer Brahim Chab's ideas, Monkey Man has some unique moves, including one with a knife that has definitely never been in any other action movie before. Using fireworks as weapons is also original.

As director too, Patel is clever with the camera. The camera reacts when some of Bobby's moves don't land, including a very familiar action movie feat that doesn't work this time.

Sikandar Kher is one bad villain in "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Sikandar Kher is one bad villain in "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The camera can be too frenetic at times, especially during a car chase, but it usually captures all the action.

Those fights achieve a breathless level of chaos, as Bobby encounters proprietors who don't appreciate him bringing a chase to their establishment, so he has to fight them off too.

Dev Patel directed "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Dev Patel directed "Monkey Man." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

In setting Monkey Man in India, Patel brings some of the unique character of the country to the genre. A recurring theme is children wandering into the melee, and Bobby makes the effort to keep them safe from harm.

Monkey Man has the best bathroom fight since Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which in turn topped the one in True Lies.

Bobby (Dev Patel) plays the monkey man in the ring too. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Bobby (Dev Patel) plays the monkey man in the ring too. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Bobby wasn't the best in the ring, so it's not like he's shown to be indestructible. He actually trains to get better midway through the movie, employing some classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin training methods and other methods based in India.

The fight scenes following Bobby's training reflect the improvement.

In Monkey Man, Patel found the ideal vehicle both to direct a feature film and portray himself as an action hero. Monkey Man shows he can hold his own in the genre and bring unique characteristics to it.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.