The character of Masud Rana may not be instantly recognizable to U.S. audiences, but he has been featured in over 450 books since his creation in 1966. Created by Bangladesh author Qazi Anwar Hussain, the character has become a popular fixture in Bangladeshi culture, with his spy stories being somewhat similar to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. In fact, many of the Masud Rana stories appear to be very loose adaptations of the works of popular authors within the Spy genre, with the aforementioned Ian Fleming as well as the likes of Alistair MacLean being used by Hussain as inspiration.
Amazingly with this massive backlog of material you would have expected there to be a host of screen adaptations, but no this isn’t the case. In fact, since the creation of the character there has only been one screen iteration of Hussain’s spy hero. Titled after the main character, Masud Rana (1974) featured Sohel Rana in the lead role, with the plot being based upon the 11th book of the series Bishmaron. Although the film won a number of awards it didn’t lead to any further cinematic adventures for Masud Rana.
That has now changed, with director Asif Akbar finally bringing back the character to the big screen with MR-9: Do or Die, a joint venture between the U.S. and Bangladesh. Unlike the last screen version which chose to adapt one of Rana’s later adventures as his first screen outing, Akbar has decided to adapt the very first novel in the series, Dhongsho-Pahar.
In his latest on screen adventure, Masud Rana a.k.a MR-9 (ABM Sumon) is tasked with taking down R&R Robotics head Roman Ross (Frank Grillo) and his brother Ricci (Matt Pasmore), with the both of them secretly carrying out terrorist activities through their company. Teaming up with C.I.A agents Duke (Michael Jai White) and Paul (Niko Foster), they must work together to find out what Ross is really planning and put a stop to his terrorist activities once and for all.
I must say, I was slightly apprehensive when going into MR-9: Do or Die when I noticed it was directed by Asif Akbar. The last film I saw of Akbar’s was the disappointing The Commando (2022), an underpar action vehicle for Michael Jai White. Still, I wouldn’t let one poor film discourage me from checking out a director’s other work. Even the best of directors don’t always hit it out of the park, so I was willing to give Akbar the benefit of the doubt.
The first noticeable difference with this film over other Akbar productions is the improved production values. This isn’t to say that MR-9: Do or Die would be mistaken for a big budget Hollywood feature, with it featuring some of the worst CGI in recent memory. Honestly. The effects work make the CGI from Millenium films seem award worthy. Sure, I get that Akbar didn’t have the effects budget of a mainstream Hollywood feature, but some of the shots here are laughable and take you right out of the film.
As expected, the subpar CGI also dampens the impact of the action, with fake CGI blood and gunfire being two of the main detractors. The excessive run time also doesn’t help matters. While many actioners clock in more than 2 hours, usually the extended runtime is warranted. Here Akbar included several unnecessary dialogue and flashback scenes which only seem to be there to pad out the runtime. Rather than hold one’s interest, all these scenes do is harm the pace of the film.
I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind wanting a longer runtime, as many of the recent spy adventures like No Time to Die (2021) or Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) have all had mammoth runtimes. The difference with these films is they had the resources behind them in order to create large scale set pieces, rather than having to include countless scenes of exposition to fill the void that would normally be filled with impressive action.
Unfortunately Akbar isn’t so lucky, that even when he does include action scenes they’re very much small-scale, focusing on fights and shootouts. I don’t have an issue with this, as normally this is the type of action I favor, but the majority of the action fails to generate any excitement with only Michael Jai White’s brief fight scenes managing to hold my attention. The gun fights are especially problematic, that not only do they feature poor CGI, but are devoid of any energy, with characters mostly standing in the same spot and returning fire. This is repeated until someone finally hits something.
When we are treated to the likes of John Wick (2014) or even lower budget films like the recent Shrapnel (2023), where the shootouts are filled with exciting and acrobatic choreography, the action style of something like MR-9: Do or Die just won’t do.
I have to make it clear, I haven’t actually read any of the Masud Rana novels. My only knowledge of the character is through the older 70’s film and carrying out some basic research online. I have seen the character’s name crop up from time to time during online discussions, but other than that I couldn’t really talk much about the character.
With that, I can’t honestly say how successful an adaptation MR-9: Do or Die is of the literary character, although I have seen several people complain online about how little this take on Rana resembles the character from the books. A lot of the criticism seems to be levied at leading man Abm Sumon who doesn’t seem to fit their vision of how Rana should be portrayed.
While Sumon isn’t as terrible as some were making him out to be, I must say that he does make for a somewhat bland leading man. His character gets a suitably bad-ass introduction, with him going up against a small army of terrorists who are holding hostages. The scene is suitably violent and shows that Rana is a force to be reckoned with. What is noticeable during this sequence is that a lot of the in screen action doesn’t appear to be carried out by Sumon himself, with his character donning a head scarf which obscures the actors features, presumably so his double could pull off the more elaborate moves required.
Considering the opening shows Rana taking on all comers by himself, the remainder of the film has him being quite inept, with the ensuing action constantly showing him being injured, so much so that you wonder why he has been chosen to front this mission.
Slightly making up for the blandness of Sumon as well as giving the film a more international flavor, Akbar has brought in the talents of action stars Frank Grillo and Michael Jai White, who both feature prominently in supporting roles. Grillo plays the film’s main villain Roland Ross who chews the scenery as only he can. He isn’t used to the best of his abilities but Grillo brings suitable menace to his villainous role. Akbar even attempts to add some humanity to his character, with Ross sharing a close connection to his son, played by Grillo’s real life son Remy Grillo.
Michael Jai White is one of the firm’s saving graces, and to be honest makes for a more convincing hero than the lead character. If it wasn’t for the fact this was a book adaptation, Akbar would have been better served making Jai White the lead. He certainly fares better here than the last film he collaborated with Akbar on, the previously mentioned The Commando. As good as Jai White is here, he still deserves better. It’s been a while since I last saw him in a film worthy of his talents. Fingers crossed that the recently released The Outlaw Johnny Black (2023) gives him the hit he rightly deserves.
As well as Grillo, we also have Matt Pasmore as the other villain of the piece, with him playing the brother of Grillo. To be honest, his screen time was that limited. I almost forgot he was part of the story until he reappeared towards the ending.
Talking of the ending, MR-9: Do or Die unwisely teases a sequel, even coming up with a screen saying to be continued. It would have been a better idea to see how this film fares commercially before offering up a sequel. In the event of a follow up I sincerely hope that the filmmakers find a way to minimize many of the issues that harm this film.
Plot: 2/5 Acting: 2.5/5 Action: 2/5 Overall: 2.1/5