3 out of 5

Directed by: S. S. Rajamouli

Three hours is an intimidating runtime, but Indian epic RRR – despite some clunkiness and general popcorn-flick predictability – makes it tick by surprisingly quickly, shifting back and forth between its central quest narrative and flashbacks on its leads at well-chosen breaks. The juggling of requisite action scenes and dance numbers is a little less balanced, and almost oddly underplayed for such a massive flick, impressing more in concept than execution at points. But here stars N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan are able to carry us through, imbuing flatter moments with their charm, supported by a very enjoyably amorphous score by M. M. Keeravani, nibbing from various cinematic styles to be what it needs to be for any given scene.

RRR straddles a perfect line between rah-rah accessibility and affecting truly localized flavor: the 1920s setting gives us a strong anti-imperialism bent that easily (sadly) can connect us to the modern day, but allows for enough remove to make the horrors inflicted by some white, rich, British folk (played by Ray Stevenson and Alison Doody) more easily villainous; you can read the intention of the flick however you want, then – as an historical epic with black and white good guys and bad guys, or as wish fulfillment / expression of grievances which would still be applicable today, or both. The concepts might not be especially complex, but they’re sincere, and depicted without any flinching; the flick not hiding that is one of its main strengths, as it synergizes with the superhero nature of its two god-like main characters.

The “story” – the first ‘R’ in our title – starts with the aforementioned white folk getting their patronizing jollies on amongst a particular tribe in India. Enjoying the entertainments of a particular girl, said couple drop some coins and whisk her away from her parents and home, quite literally running over the mother on their drive out. This spurs the second ‘R,’ the water-inspired tribal guardian Bheem (Tarak) to undertake a rescue mission, going under the guise of a different identity in the hopes of finding his way into the palace-like home of the couple and find the taken girl. Elsewhere, the last ‘R’, the fire-inspired solider Raju (Charan) is busting his hump to elevate himself amongst the Indian Police, and agrees to protect this precious white couple from the assured savage who’ll be coming from the tribe to take back this cute lil’ play thing they payed good money for. We have the first long arc of our narrative.

But before the R vs. R showdown, Raju himself goes undercover amongst the locals to try to suss out this forthcoming “savage,” not realizing it’s the new friend he’s made – Bheem. The buddy comedy that ensues during the first hour is quite darling, and gives all due fuel for that moment when the duo realize they’re on opposite sides of things.

There are two hours of twists remaining after this point, but writer / director S. S. Rajamouli has an odd way of none-too-delicately telegraphing all of those twists with plenty of flashbacks and Chekov’s Gun-type dialogue, such that we’re way far ahead of the story, even moreso than usual for these types of things. And for anyone used to the general over-the-top nature of Bollywood movies, while I’m not going to claim that the action sequences are realistic by any means, excepting a couple of choice bonkers moments, there’s a slightly spartan nature to these things, as though one eye was kept on grounding things while also wanting to indulge us with CGI insanity and cool cinematic slo-mo. The same is true for the dance / song numbers: the one main sequence we get surely goes all out, but here again, it’s like someone kept tapping the movie on the shoulder to remind it that it’s vaguely historical. All this stuff is fun, just oddly restrained.

However, this tonal quirk might be how the movie’s runtime never feels excessive: hovering below the mind-numbing bloat of some American blockbusters, even if it’s at the sacrifice of hitting the most effective version of its beasts, allows RRR to remain pleasant throughout, flexing just enough cinematic cool – here again our actors and M. M. Keeravani’s music act as buoys – to keep our eyes glued and interests stoked, nodding along with the characters’ various triumphs.