There is little doubt that Vikram is in the most critical stage of his recent film career. While his nearly one and a half year wait for Anniyan in 2005 proved worthwhile with the movie becoming a box office success, his later movies have not fared well. Majaa released in the same year was average and Bheema, his collaboration with commercial director Lingusamy, released early last year was a critical and commercial flop. With no movie befitting his place in the top-tier of Tamil actors in the past 4 years, he has put all his hopes on Kanthaswamy to restore his share of the Tamil market.

Unfortunately, that faith has proved to be misplaced. Director Susi Ganesan’s previous movies were not exactly what one could call commercial and his last movie, Thiruttu Payale, had an interesting protagonist, though the movie itself was average at best. With Kanthaswamy he has tried to move into mainstream commercial cinema with a mega-star and I have to say he is very unsuccessful in the attempt. Kanthaswamy’s story of the hero taking money from the rich and giving to the poor in order to solve their troubles is similar to every vigilante movie that has appeared before. It actually borrows liberally from a variety of similar movies like Ramana, Anniyan and Sivaji. While that itself would not have been a bad thing had the director been able to serve the old wine in a new bottle (yes it is a cliché but one that fits right in here). However, with a very uneven screenplay and an insanely long running time, the movie has very few things going for it and I definitely left the theatre feeling very underwhelmed at the end.

The plot is very basic and threadbare to say the least. By day, Kanthaswamy (Vikram) is a CBI officer working in the finance wing. His job allows him to track the financial records of almost all big-wigs in the state and conduct raids on their properties to see where their illegal money is stashed. By night, he is also a superhero taking said illegal money from big-wigs and delivering it to the needy and the poor. The people in turn believing that God is helping them write their problems on a letter and tie them up in a tree in Lord Kanthaswamy’s temple, from where our hero retrieves them and solves their troubles. This rubs the police the wrong way and the DIG (Prabhu) wants to prove that this is the work of a mortal man and no God.

Meanwhile, the CBI persona of Kanthaswamy also traps a state big-wig, PPP (Aashish Vidhyarthi), for stashing illegal money which sets him up for a direct confrontation with the latter’s daughter, Subbulakshmi (Shriya). Subbulakshmi, aiming for revenge on the person who humiliated her father, tries to woo the hero into falling for her, while the hero realizing this makes sure not to get caught in her web of love and deceit. This sets up a battle of wits between the two which looks like it will be interesting for a while, but ends up conventionally with the hero taming the heroine’s ego.

Arguably the most disappointing aspect of the movie for me was how little screen-time the Kokkarokko super-hero persona had. For a movie that had the superhero tagline during the opening sequence and has been touted as the first superhero movie in Tamil cinema, the actual character was very poorly etched and failed to give us the yearning for such a hero in our real lives (which is the ultimate success for any superhero character). The fact that the real-life Kanthaswamy had more to do than his alter-ego made me feel like I was cheated at all the hype that the movie had generated for itself and the character especially.

Still, all the movie’s flaws could have been forgiven easily had Susi Ganesan been able to narrate the story swiftly and entertainingly. However, new characters and villains are introduced at regular intervals and it feels like he is unable to keep a tight hold of proceedings as the screenplay takes weird directions. Vadivelu’s comedy track and songs arrive at all the wrong times further interrupting the pace. Yet, had the movie provided a nice conclusion and climax, the movie would have worked out better, but, with a message that feels tacked on and a rushed climax just for the sake of wrapping up everything, the director fails there too. And with a running time of 3 hours and 20 minutes, all the movie’s flaws appear magnified which make for a very incoherent and wholly unsatisfying movie.

I cannot help but pity Vikram in the movie. With the movie being as important as it is, he does look to have put a lot of effort in getting his character right. Still, his sincerity is largely wasted in a role which does nothing to bring out his talents and is pretty much like any commercial-hero type character. As I mentioned earlier, with the superhero character having such a small time on-screen, he is unable to do anything worthwhile with that too. Also the much hyped multiple roles of a woman and an old man have inconsequential (I mean they are really small, like tiny) side appearances to make any kind of impact on us.

After nearly 3 years in Tamil cinema, Shriya still cannot deliver one complete sentence without going out-of-sync with the voice-overs and that is just one minor problem I have with her. It also looks like she wants to “show” her way to the top of the Tamil cinema heroine ladder. In every song — almost nearly every scene — she appears skimpily clad in an effort to bring out her curves to the forefront and it does get boring after a while. When combined with the fact that she absolutely, positively cannot emote, her appearance does not make for a good viewing. Prabhu and Aashish Vidhyarthi sleepwalk through roles they have probably played in countless movies before. Vadivelu provides what is easily his most unfunny comedy track in recent memory and Susi Ganesan’s cameo appearance as a supporting character at the end is as forgettable as his movie.

Technically, the film is again a mixed bag. Cinematography is excellent throughout and is especially highlighted in the sequences in Mexico and in the usage of innovative camera angles during the superhero appearances. The film editor is largely responsible for the movie’s problems with sudden cuts from songs to comedy tracks to Vikram’s grand appearances. It is almost as if he cut everything and pasted them together in any way he pleased. I didn’t think too highly of Devi Sri Prasad’s songs (with Vikram’s voice to accompany it) before the movie and watching them onscreen didn’t change that opinion. The Kanthaswamy theme is pretty decent but excessive usage robs almost all of the shine from it.

Kanthaswamy follows other big-name movies with megastars in failing to live up to the pre-release hype, while we were hoping for the exact opposite thing to happen. Here’s hoping that Aayirathil Oruvan at least bucks the trend and turns out to be every bit as good as the hype it seems to be getting now.