Cast: John Abraham, Rakul Preet Singh, Jacqueline Fernandez, Rajit Kapoor, Kiran Kumar
Director: Lakshya Raj Anand
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Science and sorcery – the two key omnipresent components of Attack – demand a willing, and complete, suspension of disbelief. That is easy to make peace with. Importantly, to the credit of debutant director Lakshya Raj Anand, the fast-paced hostage drama stops well short of being an all-out, dreadful assault on the senses.
John Abraham, who is also one of the film’s producers, plays an incapacitated Army Major who is revived by a computer chip and turned into a super soldier programmed to take on a terror mastermind out to reduce India’s Parliament building to rubble.
The story of the two-hour sci-fi thriller is credited to the lead actor. The hero plunges headlong into a mission to singlehandedly save the nation from a band of vicious men from across the border even as the political establishment and the military think-tank pull in different directions.
Attack inevitably dishes out a generous serving of nationalistic fervour, but it is refreshingly and largely shorn of the sort of shrill battle cries that come with the territory. What’s more, the enemy nation isn’t mentioned even once although the names that the terrorists bear do make their connection to a specific hostile country clear.
The hero’s target looms into his sight early enough in the film for the confrontation to assume grand proportions. The fire in the man’s belly drives him and the computer chip that glows on the nape of his neck gives him the power to stand up to adversity of the most daunting kind.
A Hollywood thriller from 35 years ago, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, springs to mind. It was about a Detroit police officer who is fatally wounded and turned into a powerful cyborg. The Attack protagonist’s wound does not kill him nor is he transformed into an unfeeling machine designed to counter violence with greater violence.
Even as life changes for him, Captain America’s Indian equivalent continues to be a flesh-and-blood bloke fitted with a card that endows him with superhuman power. When he goes on a killing spree, he, like the superheroes and the hulky humanoids that have gone before, is well-nigh unstoppable.
Attack focusses on the metamorphosis of a man who has been immobilized by severe bullet wounds sustained during a terror attack on an Indian airport. Not only are a couple of his vertebrae so badly damaged that he is permanently confined to a wheelchair, the incident also robs him of the woman he loves (Jacqueline Fernandez).
Accidents seem to be a constant in the life of Major Arjun Shergill (Abraham). He proves his mettle in an opening sequence of an extraction of a dreaded terrorist from the latter’s hideout. Ten years later, he is in the right place at the right time. He saves an airhostess from a great fall. The act culminates in an unintended kiss – as cheesy a first encounter as any.
Love blossoms before tragedy strikes. A miracle in the form of a super soldier programme run by a bright young scientist (Rakul Preet Singh) under the aegis of pugnacious defence ministry official Subramanian (Prakash Raj) not only liberates the Major from the wheelchair but also gives him a new purpose in life.
Once he has been transformed into an invincible futuristic cybernetic warrior, a series of action sequences ensues. It is all rooted in a video-game sensibility that renders human action in the form of broad mechanical strokes. Attempts to fill the gaps with the tug of emotions – remember that the hero is human after all and has suffered a tragic personal loss that keeps haunting him – do not yield the desired result.
Moreover, despite the tautness of the tale and the crisp editing by Aarif Shaikh, Attack does not deliver the level of non-stop, nail-biting excitement that one expects from a movie of this nature. Certainly not consistently enough.
The cinematography (Will Humphris, P.S. Vinod, Soumik Mukherjee) is strikingly fluid all right but the visual effects are of an erratic quality and have room for improvement. Since we already know that a sequel is on the way, might we hope for a better showing on this front in the future?
The action hero in Indian popular cinema is always a one-man army for whom pulverizing gangs of armed adversaries is no more than a stroll in the park. In Attack, the larger-than-life fighter prototype dons a quasi-scientific cloak. His invincibility stems from a successful experiment in a defence ministry R&D lab.
The Parliament attack at the centre of the film commences in the first half and lasts the entire duration of the second. Attack has no scope or space, therefore, for any detours except when the super soldier’s mind strays and recalls the trauma of the terrorist attack that rendered him hors de combat.
What happens, the super soldier asks, if I am unable to distinguish between dream and reality. You will go into a deep coma, the scientist warns. His questions are also often directed at IRA (intelligent robotic assistant), who, a la Siri and Alexa, serves as a constant guide and data provider.
Before the hero makes his way into a Parliament building under siege, he provides a glimpse of what is to come when he confronts a burglar who broke into his house and stole his mother’s (Ratna Pathak Shah) ring. New Delhi’s Nehru Place becomes a combat zone for a warrior putting his skills and strength to the test for the first time. He comes out with flying colours, but jeopardises the well-being of the mission that he tasked with.
The hiccups along the way, be they minor and major, queer the pitch but since our hero is an insuperable force a degree of predictability seeps into the proceedings. The villain (played by Afghanistan-born British actor Elham Ehsas) does nothing that can take us by surprise as he holds hundreds of people hostage and threatens to eliminate them one by one if his demands aren’t met.
The home minister (Rajit Kapoor), the army chief (Kiran Kumar), Subramanian and other officials in the war room clash with each other as tension mounts and the terror kingpin pulls out the stops.
For lead actor, Attack is an opportunity to go all out with the action tropes. Prakash Raj, too, has all the ammunition needed to fire on all cylinders. But the actors playing the other key characters, including Rakul Preet Singh as the creator of the super soldier, are saddled with underwritten roles.
Attack, as it simplifies the science of heroism, certainly has its moments, but it could have done with a few more.