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by Jay Seaver

"An epic buried under bad animation."
2 stars

Aside from a cameo in the next year's "Ra.One", Rajnikanth's last film was 2010's bonkers but memorable "Endhiran", and it appears that the delay in his next starring role can be attributed to both health and script problems. Those factors also affected the form "Kochadaiiyaan: The Legend" wound up taking, a motion-captured animated film that certainly has the scale of an epic but which can't succeed with only a digital approximation of Rajni's star power.

He plays Rana, who since being found adrift on a river as a boy has steadily risen up through the ranks in the army of Kalingpuri. When promoted to commander in chief, he suggests to crown prince Veera Mahendra (Aadhi) that they impress the slaves mining gold under the palace into the army, a move which helps them conquer many territories and has Rana setting his sights on the other mighty kingdom in the southern part of India, Kottaipatinam. To oppose him, King Rishikodagan (Nasser) sends his son, crown prince Sengodagan (Sarath Kumar), to meet Rana on the field of battle - although it would be understandable if Rana would much rather deal with princess Vadhana (Deepika Padukone).

Before looking at anything else about the film, it must be said: The animation quality is far below the standard an American audience would be used to. It's not so much the dead-eye problems that have often plagued motion-captured pictures - the animators actually do a fairly good job replicating the cast's facial expressions - but there's often a shocking awkwardness to the movement and mismatches between characters and the background: Climbing scenes where characters seem to get footholds in midair and plenty of moments when characters' feet don't quite seem to be on the ground. Some of this may have to do with the post-conversion to 3D, but not the way that the character animation is probably weaker than it was in The Polar Express ten years ago and not the way that proportions and the way space is filmed often seems off. It's distracting, perhaps fatally so for some viewers. Paying a premium price for it was certainly a kick in the teeth.

That aside, how's the movie? It's got its positives. The script by K.S. Ravikumar may have one or two too many reversals right up to an ending that on the one hand doesn't make much sense at all and which on the other just seems to abruptly stop, but the first big change-up is enough fun that it's worth keeping secret even if that means talking about the movie in vague generalities. The script is a little flabby at times - there's a sequence in the extended flashback to Rana's father Kochadaiiyaan (also played by Rajnikanth) that makes up the second half which is mostly him spouting aphorisms and just being an annoying know-it-all that almost backfires into making one sympathize with the king who worries about his general becoming too indispensable, and a couple of weak comedy sequences - but it's a good story with a decent balance between action, intrigue, and romance.

The plentiful action is well-enough done that it would be nice to see what director Soundarya Rajnikanth Ashwin could do with a little more in the way of resources. Not just raw money and rendering power, either; you can sometimes see why there are long bits in the credits of other animated movies for handling crowd dynamics by how regular they are here. At their best, though, the action scenes are whimsically over-the-top and inventively staged, built out of long shots that would have required plenty of CGI were they done in live-action. There are moments when she might have considered grounding things a bit more, as the excesses that would make a traditionally-shot film feel enjoyably stylized can look like little more than bad physics in this environment. Though this whole project probably happened in large part because she's the star's daughter, she's certainly got some chops with staging and pacing a movie of this type.

Rajnikanth senior is not bad here either, for as much as one can attribute the acting in this sort of captured performance to one man. It's kind of weird to see the animators regressing him to his prime, although much less so than when he was playing a guy roughly half his age in Endhiran. A superstar in India (especially the southern portion), he does have a charisma that comes through the performance, although sometimes he can feel a little false during Kochadaiiyaan's or Rana's more egotistical moments. Nasser makes a good foil as the Kottaipatinam king, although Deepika Padukone is not particularly well-served by the whole performance-capture process - she's a lively and expressive actress in other roles, but Vadhana feels rather like plastic, even during her big action scene.

There's a good chance that this will be less of an issue in the live-action sequel/companion piece/original movie now shooting (the gestation of this project was weird), as the medium really seemed to hold "Kochadaiiyaan" back. There's an entertaining Indian swords-and-sandals epic hiding inside this movie, but it is not quite worth the very rough animation you have to peel back to find it.

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originally posted: 05/25/14 23:03:34
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  22-May-2014 (12A)

  22-May-2014 (MA)

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