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KNOCK-KNOCK, NOT KO!

Knock Out is a lot of style, a little substance and very little sense. A thriller built around a corrupt citizen forced to confess his crimes on national television, held at gunpoint by an anonymous sniper who lectures him on deshbhakti and imaandaari on phone, could have made for an edge-of-the-seat Ashtami morning masala. But a largely incoherent narrative, patchy performances and amateurish execution ensure that the 115 minutes of Knock Out is at best an erratic watch.

Knock Out’s basic premise borrows from the 2002 Colin Farrell-Kiefer Sutherland film Phone Booth, a thriller in which a faceless vigilante holds an unscrupulous publicist to ransom inside a phone booth in downtown New York City. But the demands of the Bolly box-office mean that the booth is in the middle of bustling Bandra and the sniper (Sanjay Dutt) hogs screen space from reel one. His target? Tony Khosla aka Bachchu (Irrfan), an investment banker who helps politician Bapuji (Gulshan Grover) stash his crores in Swiss accounts by day and metamorphoses into a ruthless womaniser by night.

When Bachchu enters a phone booth to crack his next shady deal, the phone starts ringing and the caller at the other end threatens to kill if he doesn’t mend his shady ways. At first rebellious and dismissive, Bachchu is brought down to his knees and has a super-quick change of heart when a couple of bullets whiz past.

Knock Out suffers heavily on account of a weak narrative. The first half is gripping in parts with the nervous tension between Irrfan and Dutt playing out well. The cat-and-mouse-game is a throwback to A Wednesday, but to compare Knock Out to the Naseer-Anupam film will be nothing short of blasphemous. Post-interval, Knock Out chokes, with many scenes turning out to be repetitive. Characters pop in and out at random; some sequences turn out to be unintentionally comic.

Add to that loopholes large enough for a Volvo bus to sail through. How do the cops stand by as hopeless bystanders without even quarantining the scene of a hostage drama? How does the sniper pack all that equipment weighing tonnes in a matter of minutes into a small skybag? Where in India does a public phone booth have a bottom pane made of bullet-proof material? How do RBI officials sit and count through Rs 500 crore right in the middle of a busy Mumbai street?

The performances are as inconsistent as the film. Saddled with a sketchily-written character, Irrfan — with a visible Johnny Depp hangover — shouts and screams through the film, but fails to make an impact. Yes, you do smile when he does a near-striptease to Zara zara touch me inside the phone booth, but that’s just about it. The accent seems to be getting weirder with every film as Kangana Ranaut — dressed in tube dress and six-inch stilletos while in the field of duty as a TV reporter — toils through her role. Sushant Singh and Apoorva Lakhia (yes, the Shootout At Lokhandwala director puts in a cameo; don’t ask us why) give each other stiff competition in the deadpan-expression category. In the end, it is only the dependable Dutt who manages to salvage Knock Out to an extent. But then, even he is saddled with dialogues like: “Jab maut aankhon ke saamne hoti hai toh achhe achho ki Gateway of India ho jaati hai” and “Dil left mein hota hai par hamesha right hota hai!”

Knocked out? We hope not.

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