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Family Feud

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Animal (2023)

Even by Bollywood standards, “Animal” is bonkers. Just as an example, our hero Vijay (“Superstar” Ranbir Kapoor) and Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna), whom he had just smooth-talked into breaking off with her fiancé at their outdoor engagement celebration after luring her inside with a rendition of their old school anthem, both exit the cockpit of Vijay’s airborne private jet, leaving the plane on autopilot while they repair to the cabin for some sexy time. As they rouse themselves following the afterglow, the jet nearly crashes into a mountaintop. But that’s not all.

The film begins, in black and white, with a tycoon’s centennial celebration. Then it flashes back (or forward, who really knows?) to colorful New Delhi, 1996, when young Vijay (Ahmad Ibn Umar) is so anxious to get home from school for his dad’s birthday bash that he somehow earns a bit of corporal punishment from his stern teacher. But his beloved baba, Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor), is too busy attending to business affairs at Swastik Steel than to show for his own party, leaving the little one crestfallen.

Fast forward to adult Vijay, an ardent Michael Jackson fan, returning to India sporting long hair and a black leather biker jacket after some time abroad for boarding school. Busy reconnecting with old pals and sabotaging Geetanjali’s betrothment, Vijay exhibits little interest in brother-in-law Varun’s (Siddhant Karnick) machinations to prime him for succession. This sets up a rivalry complicated by Reet (Saloni Batra), Vijay’s sister and Varun’s wife. In a flashback enacted with ridiculously analog (as opposed to, you know, digital) de-aging, we learn that Vijay was sent abroad for blasting Reet’s classroom with an AK-47 after classmates bullied her.

After Balbir survives a botched hit job, Vijay suddenly takes an interest in the family biz and sets out to avenge his father, despite their not having been on speaking terms. Before the title even appears on the screen, Vijay murders Varun with his bare hands. By the time “Animal” is over some three hours later, one can’t help but wonder how we even got from point A to point B? In fact, action is still ongoing throughout the credit sequence, announcing the inevitable sequel, “Animal Park.”

The main objective is to serve up everything and the kitchen sink. It can’t be called a cinematic feast, as it is a chore for moviegoers forced to digest heaps of plot points and tangents. Some courses are tastier than others, such as when Vijay commissions a body double for Balbir (also played by Anil Kapoor) and an Akshay Kumar cameo that seemingly validates all the internet speculation about the overt influences of “Ek Rishtaa: The Bond of Love” and “Waqt: The Race Against Time.” If only the filmmakers had milked those moments a bit longer before aggressively shoving platters of gratuitous blood and guts down our throats.

There’s an interesting thread buried within the film’s artless cinematic brute force, which is the unswerving loyalty that most people have sworn to their families. In this particular case, the family is extremely toxic and rife with intergenerational grudges. Balbir is so preoccupied with providing for his clan and maintaining its legacy that he becomes an absentee father. Though still haunted by childhood trauma, Vijay reflexively thrusts himself into the maelstrom to defend his father and the family honor. And just wait until you find out who the real villains are, here and in the sequel. If only director Sandeep Reddy Vanga and screenwriters Suresh Bandaru and Pranay Reddy Vanga had heeded Tim Gunn’s advice to edit, edit, edit, they may have ended up with something quite profound.

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