The latest movie in the Commando series starring Vidyut Jammwal manages to be both ugly and dull. The main theme of Commando 3 is a barely-disguised loyalty test for the Muslims of India. The plot itself is a cut-price version of the average nationalist thriller in which a bunch of government agents race against time to nab a deadly terrorist.

The 133-minute movie begins on a hyperbolic note and barely settles down thereafter. In Brussels, NATO’s headquarters is blown up, while in Mumbai, a Muslim man enjoins his brothers to slaughter a sweet-looking baby cow.

The link between these two actions is Buraq (Gulshan Devaiah), a terror mastermind who wants to avenge perceived wrongs against Muslims, including the crackdown on the Kashmir self-determination movement, the Gujarat riots and “Ayodhya” (he presumably means the destruction of the Babri mosque by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992). From his perch in London, Buraq has managed to persuade not only his fellow Muslims but also Indian Hindus into converting to his cause.

This unstoppable force soon meets the immovable object known as Karan. The granite-faced martial arts expert sets out for London along with Bhavna (Adah Sharma, reprising her role from Commando 2). They join a pair of British agents of Indian and Pakistani extraction. The quartet quickly manages to locate Buraq, who is hiding in plain sight, and threaten to ruin Indo-British ties in their quest to prevent Buraq from launching an attack that will leave 9/11 behind (the scriptwriters’ words, not ours).

There’s just about enough of a plot to fit a napkin on a table at the restaurant that Buraq owns as a cover for his deeds. As far as efficiency goes, Karan and his posse are more agile versions of the stereotyped Mumbai cops who land up on the scene after everything is done or dusted. Bhavna is supposed to be undercover but tweets from her own handle. Buraq’s former wife Zahira (Feryna Wazheir) and son Abir (Atharva Vishwakarma) happen to be conveniently hanging around as Karan looks for his target. Buraq’s easy escapes beggar belief. Karan’s’s astonishment when his convoy is attacked by Buraq’s helpers will surely be mirrored by gobsmacked viewers waiting for this supposedly gifted operative to reveal his boons.

Commando 3 (2019).

It might have been a laugh, or warranted at best a head shake or two about the limited imagination and unlimited ambition of Bollywood directors to mount a Hollywood-style espionage thriller. However, discomfort matches step with and overtakes the torpidity. A dichotomy is set up between good Muslims and bad Muslims that completely ignores the community’s genuine grievances. Images such as a character cooking meat or saying prayers in a mosque are unthinkingly rolled out. Wild-eyed Muslims who blindly heed Buraq’s missives abound, and their obverse selves are just as zombie-like in protecting their country. A few bad apples ruin the crop, it is said in Commando 3, but writers Darius Yarmil and Junaid Wasi place too heavy a burden on the Muslim characters to prove their patriotism.

Aditya Datt’s main directorial input is to shoot his characters in tight close-ups which, if nothing else, ratchets up the tension on occasion. Jammwal’s nimbleness and talent for action are underutilised in a movie preoccupied with planting Islamophobia while claiming to weed it out. The rest of the performances are just as workmanlike. Adah Sharma and Angira Dhar (as British agent Mallika) are reduced to rivals for Karan’s attentions. Gulshan Devaiah behaves as though he is in a James Bond movie, and his eye-rolling is on level with Jammwal’s calisthenics.

The death stares between Jammwal and Devaiah certainly have more frisson than the scenes between the agile hero and the women panting for him. One completes the other in ways that the movie is unable to comprehend: they are matched in their take-no-prisoners vision of justice, and have a shared appetite for goring and boring.

Gulshan Devaiah in Commando 3 (2019).