Synopsis: A small-time thief and a car driver collude with an artist to steal the gold hoarded by a jeweler, taking advantage of the curfew implemented in their village.
Review: 144 acknowledges that its story is partly inspired from writer Sujatha's Vasanthakala Kuttrangal, involves a bunch of characters, each with his own quirks. There is Rayappan (Madhusudhan), a jeweler, who has stumbled upon a cache of gold bars; small-time thief Desu (Shiva), an expert lock-picker who has a tendency to get caught easily; Kalyani (Oviya), a call girl who is Desu's accomplice and his "could-be"; Madhan (Ashok Selvan), Rayappan's driver who is in love with his boss' daughter Divya; Ravi Varman (Munishkanth), a speech-impaired artist who does the dirty work for Rayappan; and Feelings Ravi (Udhayabhanu Maheswaran), a gangster who gets emotional after punishing the people who have crossed his path and keeps a doctor by his side.
The plot is set in motion when Rayappan tries to sell the gold to their actual owner. This brings Feelings Ravi onto the scene, as it is the gangster (who safeguards the illicit wealth of the rich) who was the caretaker for the gold when it was stolen. Ravi Varman stumbles upon Rayappan's secret and a quirk of fate sees him teaming up with Desu and Madhan and stealing the gold. This is made possible because of the curfew enforced in their village, Erimalaikundu, which is involved in a decades-long one-upmanship with the neighbouring village Poomalaikundu.
144 is being promoted as a Soodhu Kavvum-meets-Mundasupatti kind of film, and the description fits only to an extent... in the sense that it has a bunch of inept criminals trying to commit crime (as in the former) and a quirky village is the setting (as in the latter). You could also call it Mundasupatti-meets-Rajathandhiram and you wouldn't be wrong as like that crime caper, it also about a gold heist that involves an elaborate set-up and planning. But the filmmaking is more Mundasupatti, with noticeable rough edges that keep reminding us that this is a first-timer's film and lacks the sophistication (it is an exposition-filled film) of both Soodhu Kavvum and Rajathandhiram. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing as the elaborate explanations enhances its accessibility and stops it from turning into a niche film like the other two. And the director, G Manikandan makes up for the lack of visual flair with wackiness that is distinctly homegrown (his superb visual twist to the term lip-lock is an instant classic), and confidently spins his yarn like an experienced raconteur.
There is so much to like in this film, when you look past its initial hiccups, which includes a cliched but unconvincing romantic track between Madhan and Divya — though, we get another wonderful early Rahman-ish duet, Poove Pooviname (after Mundasupatti's Kadhal Kiliye) from composer Sean Roldan. The other love story — between Desu and Kalyani — is handled better, and both Shiva and Oviya perform their scenes with the right amount of flippancy.
But the success of the comic portions depended on the actors and they shoulder the task admirably. Much like he did in Soodhu Kavvum, Ashok Selvan plays it straight and fits the part. This is Udhayabhanu Maheswaran's big break and as Feelings Ravi, he is a riot. And despite the lack of speaking lines, Munishkanth (aka Ramdas) manages to be funny. But it is Shiva, who keeps the laughs coming with his terrific comebacks and one-liners. His segments are so ridiculous that we notice the humour quotient dipping whenever he is not in the scene.