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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The universal acclaim for the brilliant Slumdog Millionaire must've convinced Warner Brothers that mainstream America was finally ready for authentic Bollywood. Well, sadly, it isn't, at least not for a silly and noisy cross-cultural mash-up of slapstick musical numbers and Kung Fu foolery that stretches on into an interminable, butt-numbing two-and-a-half hours.

Here, big-time action heartthrob Akshay Kumar — who could be the bastard child of Borat and Jerry Lewis — is Sidhu, a lowly vegetable-chopping street vendor working in the Delhi slum of Chandni Chowk. He's constantly whining for a better life while praying to a potato that looks like the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha. His big break comes when he's swindled by a con man into playing the patsy in the fight to liberate a Chinese village from vicious thugs. The head crime lord Hojo — who sports a razor-edged hat like Odd Job from Goldfinger — is played with menace by Gordon Liu, a badass villain from about a million Hong Kong classics, best known stateside for slapping around Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

The villagers think Sidhu's their savior reincarnate, even though he's an imbecile in way over his goofy head. Elsewhere there's Roger Yuan as an amnesiac inspector and his beautiful, identity-swapping twin daughters, played by stone-cold knockout Deepika Padukone, likely the latest Hindi babe to get vastly over-hyped (Hey, Aishwarya Rai!).

By Bollywood standards this sucker's an epic, the first Indian film shot partly in China, with a few impressive fight scenes on the Great Wall itself, and a lot more shot in Shanghai and on a Thai back lot, which is like setting a movie in Dallas and Chicago at the same time.

Once the action finally picks up, after endless missteps, the movie becomes a fun and wacky Kung Fu slap fest, slightly in Stephen Chow's comedic style, but minus his amazing skills.

The flick abounds with an exuberance that occasionally overwhelms the cheesy effects, hokey silent film-style romance and the embarrassingly sub-Benny Hill comedy antics, but will ultimately exhaust any viewer not versed in this stuff.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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