Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Race international reviews

action-thriller lark about two wealthy step-brothers who engage in a protracted game of murder, revenge and deceit over women and a large chunk of insurance money.

The horse racing scene in Durban, South Africa serves as the contemporary backdrop, though the foreground is chiefly made up of lavish apartments, ridiculously beautiful women, fast cars and fireballs.

The wildly paced story involves the debt-laden elder brother Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan) who tries to get his alcoholic sibling Rajiv (Akshaye Khanna) to straighten out his life by marrying his friend Sonia (Bipasha Basu). She, of course, has eyes for Ranvir, as does his PA Sophia (Katrina Kaif), so things have that reassuring ring of emotionally complicated melodrama right from the get-go.

But even before any vows are exchanged, an intricately plotted and marvelously devious tangle of schemes, double-crosses, triple-crosses and even quadruple crosses (!) begins to unravel at a clip that is so unrelenting it actually becomes self-consciously funny.

There's plenty of high-quality action involving expensive vehicles that have a tendency to flip over several times before exploding while the increasingly whacky story has more twists in it than an over-priced packet of Twisties.

Yet as crazy and improbable as the plot gets there's not a single hole in it, with every one of about a hundred loose ends being ingeniously tied up by final credits, so kudos to screenwriter Shiraz Ahmed.

Gun Bollywood directors Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla & Mastan Alibhai Burmawalla - aka Abbas-Mastan, as credited on screen - compose their high-octane widescreen adventure like a glossy postcard with ADD and stage their many elaborate song-and-dance numbers with equal amounts of sexual energy and plot exposition.

As is often the case with the casts of so many Bollywood films the women all look like goddesses and the guys all look like escapees from a help desk cubicle. Here they bring an exhuberant, trashy energy to their performances, which, despite the subtitles, contains a surprising amount of English dialogue sprinkled in amidst the Hindi - and it's fascinating to see how the English tends to pop up when a major character or plot point is being punched.

Please note: with the 20-minute intermission you'll be in the cinema with this prime piece of B-grade entertainment for a solid three hours, so be sure to take enough Twisties and samosas in with you.

(The Age)

Thriller helming duo Abbas-Mustan go for the max in "Race," a high-octane, star-driven murder mystery with more twists than a pretzel. South African-set yarn, centered on two scheming brothers and the equally scheming dame in their lives, delivers solid, brainless entertainment thanks to a precision-built script and performances that are all in the same key. Pic has been doing robust biz since March 21 release.
As well as adopting the hard-driven, techno-rock style (in both visuals and music) now fashionable in Bollywood actioners, the pic (scripted by Abbas-Mustan regular Shiraz Ahmed) makes their 2002 double-crosser, "Humraaz," which also starred Akshaye Khanna, look genteel by comparison. In its second half, pic sometimes seems to exist only as an excuse for another plot or character reversal, though at the end of the day, it does all logically -- if implausibly -- make sense.
Opening with a tautly staged car crash that's only explained later, story intros Ranvir Singh (Saif Ali Khan), the super-wealthy owner of a stud farm in Durban, South Africa, and his alcoholic, sybaritic brother, Rajiv (Khanna). Ranvir, who gets off on extreme sports, is so ruthless that when he learns one of his jockeys has accepted a bribe, he simply kills him.
However, when Rajiv falls for Ranvir's super-glam g.f., Sonia (Bipasha Basu), Ranvir doesn't seem worried, and even lets the couple marry. In fact, the marriage is a business arrangement: Rajiv and Sonia plan to push Ranvir off the 21st floor of his office building and collect $100 million under a double-indemnity accident clause.
That's just the beginning of a serpentine yarn that also entangles Ranvir's devoted secretary Sophia (Katrina Kaif) and even suspicious investigating cop Robert D'Costa (vet Anil Kapoor).
Despite a small core of five main characters, and an initially straightforward murder plot, Ahmed's script comes up with a whole string of hidden wrinkles to completely undermine what the viewer took for real in part one. Even small details, like Ranvir's taste for death-defying sports, become important plot points, mitigating the sheer outrageousness of several developments.
Khan, who hardly ever disappoints nowadays, is fine as the lizard-like Ranvir, but it's Khanna, often little more than beefcake in his movies, whose performance really takes on some depth. Kapoor, who doesn't even appear until just before the intermission, adds some welcome humor, though his repartee with his dumb female assistant (Sameera Reddy) doesn't really work. Basu and Kaif are nicely balanced as vamp and plain Jane, respectively.
Lensing by Abbas-Mustan regular Ravi Yadav is top-notch, and visual effects ditto. Five hard-driven musical numbers, including the pumpy title one, keep the heat high, though Basu clearly can't dance. Pic is wholly set in South Africa but some (desert) scenes were shot in Dubai.



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