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‘The Big 4’ (review)

The Big 4 is a 2022 Indonesian action-comedy directed by Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes For Us, Headshot, Let the Devil Take You) and starring frequent collaborator Abimana Aryasatya, with Putri Marino, pop star Lutesha, and Arie Kriting in support. The film was produced, as all of Timo’s most recent projects have been, by Netflix and is exclusively streaming upon the platform at the time of writing.

A new Timo Tjahjanto film has the feeling of a heavyweight title defense.

The Night Comes For Us, his last film, took up the baton of The Raid 2 as the most visceral, exciting, and intense action film to come out of Asia this century. His horror work in films like Killers put him at the forefront of the international community in that genre as well.

Tjahjanto has established himself as a must-watch filmmaker in the way that directors Jonnie To and Tsui Hark were in the 90’s– no matter what he’s working on, all the cinematic cool kids know they can’t miss it.

The Big 4 rewards that loyalty…mostly.

The film has Tjahjanto’s trademark splatter violence in spades but trades the dour Triad intrigue of The Night… or the amnesiac warriors of Headshot for a cast of zany assassins who feel pulled straight from the mind of James Gunn.

It takes less than five minutes for the film to shape itself into the East Asian response to The Suicide Squad with a breathlessly funny, wickedly violent, pre-titles sequence involving wild slapstick and organ harvesters.

Moving forward we’re treated to a blood feud between a silly crew of vigilante mercenaries taking on a criminal syndicate after they kill their mentor in cold blood.

Over the next two and a half hours we get Timo shooting for bravura entertainment: situational comedy, loose plotting, even a full on musical number with Tourette’s syndrome sprinkled in.

This introduces a seemingly paradoxical set of complaints for the film that it feels both less substantial than Tjahjanto’s previous films and flabbier. He’s worked with longer running times before, but the need to cram in all the character comedy leaves the film feeling decidedly flabby in its middle act compared to the buzzsaw marathon that was The Night Comes For Us.

The film is bookended by tremendous action sequences, and many of the jokes land but there’s no denying that the film needs an editor.

The cast is very funny though Aryasatra lacks the gravitas and leading man presence that Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais brought to Timo’s last two projects. That said, there’s a real evolution at play in Timo’s work as he expands his palette and incorporates a huge ensemble of characters with their own foibles and inside jokes. This is another area where the James Gunn influence comes through strongly– like Guardians this is a film about a collection of crazy people all getting their own mini arcs that pay off rather than a single main character.

This complaint is far from fatal, though. Tjahjanto balances the action and comedy so that the latter is always a product of the characters and therefore keeps tonal whiplash between scenes to a bare minimum.

That’s an impressive feat in a film where multiple villains get their heads vaporized just minutes after a gag involving putting off busting down a door in order to air out childhood trauma that’s legitimately laugh out loud hilarious. The entire final sequence is a show stopper that echoes everything from A Better Tomorrow 2 to Wheels on Meals in an attempt to alternately thrill and charm.

The Big 4 is absolutely worth watching and contains moments of Timo’s trademark perverse violence that have been accentuated with a new found set of comedic chops, but it is definitely the most slight of his Netflix co-productions and unfortunately gets me more excited about his next film than it thrills me on its own.

See it for sure– but this is more shadowboxing than a title match.

*** out of *****

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