Through four feature films and some assorted shorts, Indonesian madman Timo Tjahjanto has proven to be one of our foremost purveyors of cinematic gore. Whether it’s the bone-crunching action of Headshot and The Night Comes for Us, or his Evil Dead-inspired horror duology May the Devil Take You and May the Devil Take You Too, Tjahjanto doesn’t blur the lines between genres so much as eviscerate them and then drown them in a pool of blood. It is, then, perhaps odd to find him trying his hand at a goofy action-comedy, that is, until less than five minutes into The Big 4 when someone gets a baseball-sized hole blown through their head. Welcome to Tjahjanto’s stab (no pun intended) at a men-on-a-mission lark that just so happens to feature the bloodiest hand-to-hand combat and chunkiest, most elaborate squibs you’ll see in a movie this year (and just in time for the holidays).
A prolonged opening sequence introduces us to the squad smack in the middle of a Mission: Impossible-style rescue operation — leader Topan (Abimana Aryasatya) and right-hand gal Alpha (Lutesha) have infiltrated an illegal organ-harvesting operation that’s hiding behind the façade of a children’s orphanage. Young Pelor (Kristo Immanuel) has been sent in as an undercover agent, and just as he’s about to be cut open, the others spring into action. Gunning down wave after wave of attackers, the trio seem pinned down by a fresh onslaught of guards, until resident marksman Jenggo (Arie Kriting) gets in on the action, sniping dudes from an opposite building and generally making a deep red mush out of craniums. It’s another job well done, as they head off with mentor and father-figure Petrus (Budi Ros), who has raised the group since they were children, essentially creating his own group of highly trained, extremely deadly vigilantes (don’t worry, they’re the good guys).
But he also has a biological daughter, Dina (Putri Marino), who is about to graduate from the police academy and join the force. He can’t stand the idea of breaking the law and possibly having a run-in with her, so he decides to retire. On the evening of Dina’s graduation ceremony, Petrus is attacked by a masked assailant, some mysterious figure from his past, and is brutally murdered. Dina stumbles upon the aftermath of the attack, finding Topan on the scene. Mistaking him for the murderer, she shoots him, and then the movie jumps ahead three years. Dina has spent the intervening time searching in vain for her father’s killer, while the members of The Big 4 have retired to an island far from Jakarta. Through a series of contrivances, Dina winds up on the island to investigate a building she has spotted in the background of an aged photo, which has also revealed what she believes is her father’s secret, second family (she’s kind of correct, just not in the way she assumes).
It should be noted that the preceding plot synopsis only accounts for roughly the first act of this extremely long film. The second half of the film involves a protracted bit of getting-the-band-back-together, as well as the introduction of the villainous Antonio (Marthino Lino) and his sexy sidekick Alo (Michelle Tahalea). Tjahjanto has never made a particularly short movie, tending instead to stuff his narratives with all manner of colorful supporting characters, complicated plots, and other narrative curlicues. But he regrettably stretches this tendency to the breaking point here, often interspersing his typically fine action sequences with bad, momentum-killing humor and outlandish slapstick. Sometimes it works, as in a long scene that finds Topan trying to fend off attackers without alerting Dina to their presence and which channels prime-era Jackie Chan perfectly in its seamless integration of choreographed fighting and physical comedy. But other incidents don’t fare as well; there’s a mind-numbingly long section that follows Dina on a bad drug trip while she attacks Topan and Jenggo over and over (kicking someone in the balls is a tired gag that barely elicits a laugh on the first go around, let alone the 20th), for instance. Indeed, there’s a general tendency toward amiable shenanigans that inflects the whole plot, and which occasionally stands at odds with all the extremely detailed viscera — Tjahjanto seems to be having fun here, but humor is, of course, subjective, and the director plays fast and loose with toeing that line.
Still, he knows when to stop goofing around and deliver some ultra-violence, and if there’s nothing here that can quite top the wonderful mayhem of Night, The Big 4 manages to go out on a high note. The final 30 minutes are essentially a burst of non-stop action, as the good guys square off against Antonio and a small army of mercenaries and destroy a good chunk of this island paradise in the process. A deftly timed explosion seems intended to rival Tjahjanto’s buddy Gareth Evans’ similar gambit in his Gangs of London TV series, while otherwise trying to top the famous finale of Woo’s A Better Tomorrow 2. If The Big 4 can’t quite climb to such illustrious highs, it’s still a noble effort. There are some big bumps along the way — seriously, this needs to be half an hour shorter — perhaps growing pains that come with the new(ish) territory, but if Tjahjanto wants to embark on some further adventures with these lovable weirdos, there’s enough here that you can count us in for the ride.
You can currently stream Timo Tjahjanto’s The Big 4 on Netflix.