Watching Irrfan Khan do the nervous callee in a phone booth, listening to an unsettling self-assured voice - played by Sanjay Dutt - manipulating him, constitutes that half of what Mani Shankar gets right in this ambitious Phone Booth cum A Wednesday mash.
Knock Out is a ride made exciting both by its theme and by the unlikely chemistry of two actors with diametrically opposite performing styles. And yet, it remains a could-have-been, because of little digressions that it makes.
Knock Out deals with Tony Khosla (Irrfan Khan), a sleazy investment banker who is a kind of broker in an all-important deal. Looming in the background are the Swiss banks and nasty politicians, just so we know where the film is headed.
Now Khosla is caught in a phone booth with a caller (Sanjay Dutt) who doesn't identify himself, but who forces him into moral surrender by way of showing him that he can be a mean sharp-shooter if Khosla doesn't do what he tells him to do.
The idea is to get Khosla to set a few wrongs right. In the process, there is a cop (Sushant Singh) determined to get to the bottom of things, and Nidhi (Kangana Ranaut), a frenzied journalist driven to get her "breaking story" first. This gives the film scope for some of the side shows that we saw in A Wednesday.
Knock Out keeps it thrilling for a good part, but digresses into childish fantasy as it gets closer to its logical conclusion. There's silly violence in the end, and a lack of seriousness to the climax.
Also, Knock Out tries to drive home 2 randomly different kinds of moral lessons, which are not even on the same page as each other. This deprives it of the single-mindedness that could have been its strength, given the weighty issue it deals with - that of the thousands of crores of taxpayers' money stashed away in Swiss banks. A few frivolous moments and a couple of loopholes could have been chopped off, and we could have had a tighter, more nail-biting two hours.
Mani Shankar nails it as far as the casting is concerned, though. Part of the momentum built until then is due to the crackerjack performances by both Khan and Dutt. They never share a frame, but they each bring their own kind of finesse to the screen. Irrfan Khan, obviously, puts in the more "intelligent" performance, while Dutt entertains with his brand of raw dialogue-spouting.
Sushant Singh pulls off a neat performance as the police officer, and Kangana Ranaut delivers exactly what you'd expect out of Kangana Ranaut as a dolled-up India TV reporter.
Knock Out starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper, but meanwhile, there sure are some kicks to be got out of the star cast's brilliance.