* There's talk that Knock Out is a blatant copy of Phone Booth. If you've watched the original, why watch its clone?
* You rush to a nearby cineplex only if the film excites you and in this case, the buzz is missing.
* Sanjay Dutt - the lead actor - hasn't been a part of a worthy film, post Munnabhai. That automatically robs the sheen from the film.
You can't turn a blind eye to the fact that Knock Out borrows from Phone Booth. Even otherwise, a man held hostage in a telephone booth by a sniper automatically compels you to think that Phone Booth is the prime source of inspiration, but what follows after a point bears no resemblance to that film. In fact, Knock Out also bears an uncanny resemblance to A Wednesday although the two films are as diverse as chalk and cheese in terms of how the storyline progresses.
Knock Out is a thriller that keeps you hooked at regular intervals. The best thing about the film is that it remains focused to the plot and there are no deviations [thankfully!] in terms of songs, comedy or any other parallel track. Of course, there are hiccups, but the finale and the message it conveys camouflages the defects largely.
Final word? If one goes with minimal expectations, chances are you may like this film.
Knock Out takes place almost entirely inside a public phone booth on a busy street. Bachchu aka Tony Khosla [Irrfan] uses the phone booth to carry out all the odd jobs he's into. After one such call, when Irrfan is about to leave the phone booth, the phone rings and he instinctively picks it up. On the other end of the line is a menacing caller [Sanjay Dutt].
The voice demands that Irrfan stay in the phone booth or else, the caller would destroy his marriage [Rukhsaar plays Irrfan's wife] and ruin his reputation of an investment banker. Irrfan tries to hang up the phone, but the voice on the phone threatens to kill him. Stuck in the phone booth, he's forced to ward off anyone who tries to get him out, including a drug addict.
The drug addict is shot dead by the caller and the police as well as the media arrive on the scene. The caller makes Bachchu dance to his tunes for a valid reason.
Come to think of it, Knock Out is a difficult film to execute because the two characters - Sanju and Irrfan - never cross paths, except for a fleeting moment towards the end. In fact, they are constantly talking to each other over phone. Now watching a man trapped in a phone booth [for the entire film] could make the viewer restless. But the engaging screenplay and the energetic pacing keeps the viewer on toes. You just don't know what to expect next, since the story doesn't follow the beaten path.
What sets it apart from not just Phone Booth, but also other films [including LIBERTY STANDS STILL] is the fact that Sanju is not out to settle personal scores with the wrongdoers [Irrfan, Gulshan Grover]. He wants to book those who have cheated India by stashing unaccounted money across various banks abroad. In fact, the finale is the best part of the enterprise and stirs up patriotic feelings.
On the flipside, the film tends to get repetitive at times. The middle of the second hour stagnates, albeit for a few minutes. Also, there's a reference to a woman that makes Sanju extremely emotional. One assumes that the woman is linked to Sanju is some way, but that remains a mystery all through.
Mani Shankar illustrates his ability as a fine storyteller. His handling of the subject is commendable. Also, the director employs the split-screen style to tell the story, which comes across very well. Cinematography [N. Natarajan Subramanian] is striking. Action scenes [Allan Amin] are vibrant. However, the one-on-one fight in the climax or prior to that, when the cops enter Sanju's apartment and Sanju kills all of them single-handedly, should've been avoided. It robs the film on realism. Dialogues [Shiraz Ahmed] are razor sharp and an asset. I wish to make a special mention of the background score [Sanjay Wandrekar, Atul Raninga], which is truly fantastic.
The casting is just perfect. Sanju seems to be in form after a really long time, after Munnabhaiin fact. Besides, the performance is consistent from start to end, which only goes to show the involvement of the actor in the script and director. Irrfan is akin to a chameleon. Cast him in any role and he emerges trumps. A lesser actor in his place and Knock Out would've got knocked out. Kangna is efficient, as always. But her diction is faulty at places.
Gulshan Grover is excellent. He plays the corrupt politician with natural ease. Sushant Singh is first-rate. Rukhsar is good in a brief role. Apoorva Lakhia carries the stern look well. Asif Basra does a commendable job.
On the whole, Knock Out is a watchable fare, but its English title and also Sanjay Dutt's box-office pull, which is minimal currently, will act as deterrents. Therefore, the film will require a very strong word of mouth to find a foothold.
Several factors compel you to ponder over your decision whether or not to watch Knock Out...