REVIEW

Movie Review: O Brothers, Wherefore This Race?

March 23, 2008
Beth Loves Bollywood

What does it say about Abbas-Mustan's new thriller Race that its biggest surprise was the appearance of Johnny Lever?

Not that there was much room for him: Anil Kapoor, the non-badge-wielding policeman, had already been established as the goofy comic character, and he was already augmented by poor Sameera Reddy's brain-dead role. (The universe must be paying attention to my passing thoughts. Halfway through the movie I had been thinking it might be made more exciting by a surprise cameo. And just a few days ago I had been wondering what Johnny had been up to lately. Be careful what you wish for!)

I think Race's problem lies in how small it is. From the beginning we are told that the lives of the four main characters - Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna's brothers and Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif's women who love them - are intertwined and forever changed. But with Anil as the only other character of substance to enter the film as it progresses, we know all the plot twists will have to come from within, which doesn't leave much room for surprise. There are only so many things that can happen, so the "what" of the story is not terribly interesting. The "why" of the surprises is mostly left unexplored, so there's little psychological tension linking these people and their triple-crosses. To the film's credit, the "how" of the surprises is better, with a handful of fun action sequences (two of which are replayed in flashbacks, feeling a little bit like resting on laurels), but even that didn't build up suspense. A thriller, especially one named Race, needs to be taut and fast, and this one just isn't. Bluffmaster, another twisty film with the same number of characters, was much more effective: the players come in one by one, and their effects are allowed to build and interplay.

The film is also bogged down by a lot of extra paraphernalia. I don't necessarily mind if a movie goes for style over substance, and I don't necessarily mind gadget-heavy style (think Don: The Chase Begins Again), but I didn't think all the toys and props communicated as much as their ubiquitous presence would suggest. A lot of stuff does not equal a lot of style. (And in the case of Anil and Sameera's characters, the constant fruit-eating and palm pilot-scribbling seemed to elbow in as actual character traits, not just habits.) Try to keep track of all the sunglasses and the number of times characters fiddle with them, I dare you! There's a lot of skin, too, some of it relevant and some of it not. (Note to costume designer: some of her skirts were so short and the camera so pleased with her legs, you could almost see Bips's bits. Don't get all Britney on us now, please.)

Even though seeing them together just made me long for Dil Chahta Hai, my favorite moments were courtesy of Akshaye and Saif, when they managed to keep the dramatic tone controlled or chose to let a sense of humor wink out from among all the jaw-clenching. These are two of my favorite actors, and frankly I felt the project was beneath them. Oh, and the cowboy/country line-dancing song ("Dekho Nashe Mein"? I've already forgotten), that was fun. Seeing Akshaye Khanna in a fringed leather jacket was worth the price of my ticket. I was also grateful to have female characters have actual plot-related things to do and not be relegated to accessories; while I wanted to shake them and say "Why are you getting into race cars with the death-wish brothers at the wheel?!?," at least they were participating in the plans. Fans of 1980s and 90s villains also might enjoy Dalip Tahil as the initial bad guy, and he gets in some typically bad-guy smarmy chuckles.

But other than that, I had to look for my own fun in Race. For something that could have been a slick timepass joyride, it really didn't make much of a showing.

Not remotely Indian, but very, very interested - and completely in love with Bollywood!
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#1
memsaab
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March 23, 2008
12:06 PM

I saw the trailer for this and decided then and there that I could skip it in the theater...sounds like I can probably skip it on DVD too!

#2
temporal
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March 23, 2008
02:32 PM

beth:

you should contribute more here

one quick and non-movie specific observation?

trash is trash even when viewed from across the seas and even when viewed by unrelated others

;)

#3
Beth
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March 23, 2008
09:10 PM

memsaab - Yep. Skiparooni - although you might indulge in the cowboy song at some point. ;)

temporal - Thanks! I hope to. And agreed re: trash. It can be an international language.

#4
PH
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March 24, 2008
04:21 PM

Thank goodness the wife n I decided not to spend 20 bucks on the movie and raced our butts to our fav pancake place.

#5
Beth
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March 24, 2008
07:44 PM

Good call! I came to the theater straight from having pancakes myself.

#6
Deepa Krishnan
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March 26, 2008
09:49 AM

Ooh, very well written. I love a good review and yours was an absolute pleasure to read.

#7
Aditi Nadkarni
March 27, 2008
12:01 AM

"the constant fruit-eating and palm pilot-scribbling seemed to elbow in as actual character traits, not just habits"

hehehe.

Just like Bollywood to do that. They think of paan chewing, key twirling and the placement of a hat as meaningful insights into character analysis. :)

Fruit-eating. chuckle. Thats gonna make me giggle for a while.

Nice review. Will save me not only from watching the film but more importantly from mustering all my wicked humor to write one myself.

#8
Beth
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March 27, 2008
10:06 AM

Deepa - Thank you! What a lovely way to start my day :)

Aditi - It might not make you chuckle so much once you see it on the screen...but as you have wisely predicted, why bother. There are some truly excellent and funny reviews of Race on the various film blogs I read - people have really gotten creative in describing its badness! Cheers to you for returning the chuckling.

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