May 29, 2010

Kites The Remix - review

Prior to watching Kites: The Remix, I'd never seen a proper Bollywood movie, and in the interest of full disclosure I should acknowledge I've never studied their films or the industry at large in any significant way. But it is nevertheless hard not to judge the taste of audiences who apparently made the film a massive success in its native India. Because even whittled down and refined by Brett Ratner, who edited out the music sequences and beefed up the drama with a new, western score, the tropes used to bring to life this tale of lovers on the run are too worn out – or just poorly executed – to make this more than a straight-to-video tale that somehow mysteriously managed to find its way to the silver screen.

The film stars Hrithik Roshan as J, a Vegas dance instructor and hustler who creates a cottage industry for himself marrying illegal immigrants so they can get their green cards. Managing somehow to seduce the daughter of an affluent casino owner, J prepares for his first "real" marriage, which will allow him to discard his checkered past forever. But when his fiancee's brother Tony (Nicholas Brown) announces his own marriage to J's eleventh wife, Natasha (Barbara Mori), J worries that their shared history will ruin both of their plans. While reaching out to Natasha to figure out what to do, J begins to realize he has real feelings for her; but when Tony catches them together, J and Natasha take off together on a cross-country adventure that forces them to fight not only for their love, but for their very lives.

For a 90-minute movie about forbidden romance, Kites has an absurdly complicated story structure, featuring an elliptical narrative, dual flashbacks, and even flashbacks inside of other flashbacks. But there is literally nothing sophisticated about it at all, including J and Natasha, whose chemistry is an embodiment of the Annie Hall conversation between Alvy Singer and a couple that is happy precisely because both parties are "very shallow and empty and has no ideas and nothing to say." While the film itself clearly has no understanding of the legalities of marriage, allowing J to wed multiple women without divorcing any of the previous ones, he and Natasha are exceedingly stupid: in a scene in which they attempt to divorce one another so they can marry their respective fiancées, the two of them agree verbally that they are divorced, and I am pretty sure they both believe that is a legally-binding contract.

Ironically, the musical numbers are probably the sort of thing that could redeem such a cliché-laden story as this, but Ratner removed that Bollywood trademark in favor of an overall shorter and more streamlined film. That said, I can't imagine sitting through a version that would run one second longer than this one. Even the action scenes, which dexterously replicate the energy (not to mention cinematography) of Western car chases and shootouts, go on longer than they should, suggesting that the original filmmakers didn't have the forethought to focus on anything at all, but still paid attention to everything way too much. If it tells you anything, Kites looks as if it were sponsored by a combination of Ed Hardy and '80s-era Tony Scott.

As the imperiled lovers, Roshan and Mori provide a lot of empty attractiveness, but always seem to be going through the motions of a romance that was defined more by movie formulas than actual interest in one another. But even their sex appeal has been largely neutered: apart from one scene where they show off their respective physiques, there's only one actual kiss in the film, and a scene of consummation is edited so obliquely that it plays as all build-up with no payoff. That both of the actors do more acting with their mouths than any other part of their bodies only further highlights the bottomless shallows of the cast's pool of talent.

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