If a film could be judged simply by what’s in it, much like judging a dish based on the ingredients, then Naveen’s Moodar Koodam is a delicious black comedy. There’s an absurdist musical number awash in neon lighting. There’s a Caucasian who sets out to buy ganja in a T-shirt that bears the face of Gandhi. There’s a character named Mandodhari. There’s an impromptu boxing match in a living room. There are pungent musical cues, off-kilter versions of bits ranging from Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky to Bharathi’s Achchamillai achchamillai and Nila nila odi vaa.

There’s the Chennai branch of Dawood Ibrahim’s operations. There’s an unlettered thief who mistakes “happy life” for “apple pazham,” and who keeps referring to his “job ethics.” And there are vivid backstories narrated like the silent movies (with intertitles) and like cartoons. Even the dog here — a Great Dane, and as much a dysfunctional “fool” as the rest of the cast, as the title suggests — gets its own flashback. It’s all exceedingly clever.

Cleverness in the movies is something of a tightrope walk. There are films that the audience feels are clever, and there are films where we feel that the filmmaker is being very clever. And with Moodar Koodam, we’re left with the latter feeling. This is a film that could have used an editor. Not the editor from the movies, whose contributions usually kick in after shooting is complete, but the editor from the world of books, who takes the manuscript from a first-time author and tells him what’s working and what isn’t and shapes the material with a firm hand.

Throw out this subplot. Tone down the mannerisms, the eccentricities (which are great fun, but only up to a point). Tighten the narrative. Keep the momentum going. Lose the moralising, the haves-versus-have-nots speechifying. These are a few editorial directives that might have benefited this well-intentioned film, which is a little all over the place.

But if Moodar Koodam doesn’t quite come together, it still sets itself apart due to a couple of reasons. One, it’s a genuinely scripted comedy — a noir-comedy, if you want to be more accurate, which has no problem dealing with deaths — as opposed to a screenwriter slapping together a series of one-liners and doing nothing more (which is what most of our comedies are these days). Those backstories exist not just to amuse us with wacky technique, but also to explain why these people did the things they did.

Why, for instance, did the leader (Naveen) of the four men (the others are played by Sentrayan, Rajaj and Kuberan) who hold a family hostage end up in a juvenile home? Why does one of his cohorts make the members of this family stand on their heads? Why the strange sympathy for the chubby boy, who’s often called an idiot? These are things we learn in flashes, through these backstories.

Two, there are moments that are genuinely funny. My favourite bits have to do with two little girls, one who falls for Naveen after being slapped across the face (it sounds awful but the genesis of this silly one-sided romance is a hoot) and another who proves herself to be easily bribed with food. (Both these young actors are excellent.) And the little idiocies exhibited by the characters — like the decision by Sentrayan, the dumbest of the bunch, to buy monkey caps instead of masks — have been lovingly detailed. (Watching Naveen clench his teeth in frustration is a lot of fun.)

There are a few too many characters, but the scenes with them are inventively staged. At one point, we see a discussion framed, on one side, by a man with a ping pong paddle, and on the other, a henchman with a revolver, waiting for the ball to drop. Naveen isn’t always able to translate what he seems to have had in mind, but at least he does have a lot on his mind. His next film will be awaited with much interest.

Genre: Black comedy

Director: Naveen

Cast: Naveen, Sentrayan, Rajaj and Kuberan

Storyline: Four losers hold a family hostage and watch their plans falling apart.

Bottomline: The film isn’t consistently great, but has some great gags.