Chandni Chowk to China
Directed by Nikhil Advani. Starring Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Mithun Chakraborty, Ranvir Shorey, Gordon Liu. (2009, PG-13, 154 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 23, 2009
Anyone whose familiarity with Bollywood cinema extends no further than the closing dance number in Slumdog Millionaire is almost certain to have one of two possible reactions to this, the first "real" Bollywood film to be co-produced and released in the States by Warner Bros. Reaction No. 1 involves disbelief, confusion, a palpable sense that time has slowed to the pace of a geriatric snail while simultaneously elasticizing itself into Roger Ramjet velocities, and a nameless dread that one is just not getting it. Reaction No. 2 – and the one most likely to come from audiences who have had previous experience with the raw all-singing, all-dancing, often endearing schizophrenic chaos that is the hallmark of Bollywood films – should fall somewhere between drowsy animosity and a vaguely protective sense of Bollywood fan-based cinematic propriety. It's a mess (and it's over 2½-hours long), but aren't all Bollywood films? Short answer: No. (For proof, go check out Om Shanti Om, Farah Khan's devilishly imaginative 2007 homage to classic Bollywood conventions.) Leading man Kumar – think of early Jim Carrey on goofballs – plays Sidhu, a lowly potato peeler working in his father's food stand in the Dehli slums. Always on the lookout for a message from the gods, Sidhu discovers a sign in a tuber bearing the vague likeness of pachydermal Lord Ganesh. There are not enough pages in The Austin Chronicle to detail even the least of Sidhu's adventures; suffice it to say he's suckered into the belief that he's the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese swordsman. Thus, it's off to China to battle the evil despot Hojo (legendary Hong Kong action master Liu, of the Kill Bill films), with Om Shanti Om's sex bomb Padukune on board in a dual romantic role. What else to say but "hilarity ensues"? Not that much hilarity, actually, although if you're one of the 10-plus human beings who enjoyed Jackie Chan's ceaseless mugging in City Hunter, you'll probably also dig Kumar's gift for facial tics and the frequent outbursts of (admittedly well-choreographed) splashy musical numbers. Me, I just wanted to jam chopsticks into his irritatingly overactive eyes and let the feral dogs of Dehli have their way. As for the Pan-Asian angle, Kung Fu Hustle this is not, although there are some egregious similarities to that Stephen Chow film. Chandni Chowk's everything-and-the-kitchen-stank approach to kung fu comedics makes Chow's slapstick antics look like austere Robert Bresson by comparison. It's chop-socky vindaloo, pleasing on a platter but awfully difficult to swallow whole.