Synopsis: A cop who loses his loved ones goes into self-inflicted exile to bring up his child, but when her life is threatened, he decides to settle an old score.
Review: With the right material, Vijay can elevate even an ordinary scene with his amazing screen presence. And he can effortlessly play to the gallery. It is these aspects that Atlee repeatedly calls upon from the actor in Theri, a cop story that is entertaining despite being predictable. And the actor, too, responds in style — he appears in different looks, bashes up the goons, swoons over the heroine, plays along with kids, lectures on raising a child, using a helmet and quitting smoking, and even gamely turns into a dwarf for a brief moment!
As he did with Raja Rani, Atlee borrows tropes from earlier films (the elderly villain from Chatriyan, the metal rod being used as a murder weapon from Ghajini, the gigantic henchman who has to be vanquished before the hero can lay his hands on the villain from various masala movies of the 80s and 90s, the mother as the best friend from the post 2000 movies, the cop who quits the force for his offspring from Yennai Arindhaal) and with help from his cinematographer George C Williams, presents them in a riot of colours that almost makes us believe that we are seeing something new. But this is a formulaic film and can be best described only with another cliche — old wine in a fancy, extra-large bottle.
The film begins with scenes between Joseph Kuruvilla (Vijay) and his little daughter Nivi (Nainika), who behaves in the way most movie kids behave — talk like an adult, behave like a brat and still have us go 'Oh so cute!' Her teacher Annie (Amy Jackson, as a Malayali, no less!) becomes close to the two, but following an incident, realises that Joseph is hiding something. And like her, we, too, are told of his past, when he was the intrepid deputy commissioner Vijay Kumar. By investigating a rape and murder case, Vijay earns the enmity of minister Vanamamalai (Mahendran, making a solid debut). And the minister kills Vijay's mother (a jovial Radikaa) and wife, Mithra (Samantha), and leaves the cop for dead. And when Joseph realises that Vanamamalai knows his secret identity, he decides to end their enmity once and for all.
Unlike Chimbu Deven, who got carried away with making his star a darling of the kids in Puli and ignored the actor's core fan base (the youth), Atlee comes up with moments that satisfy all segments of the audience — the scenes between Joseph and Nivi for the kids, the portions involving Vijay's mother and Mithra for the family crowd and most importantly, the episodes between Vijay and the various bad guys for the cheering youngsters. And he uses these moments cleverly. So, every time the film seems to be sinking into banality, a whistle-worthy moment or a comic line or a sentimental scene comes along and saves it.
But Atlee takes too long to narrate this familiar story. We get two fights to establish the machismo and goodhearted nature of the hero and two songs to liven up his romance when one could have done these jobs. Like his guru Shankar, he also crams in too many societal issues — rape, rowdyism, child beggars — to manipulate his audience and earn their sympathies. The major fault, however, is that he turns the villain into a sitting duck after building him up for most parts of the film. This is why the final portions lack the punch they deserve.