January 29, 2009

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Chandni Chowk to China (PG-13)
Bollywood meets kung fu in Chandni Chowk to China, a goofy caper about a vegetable-cutter who makes good.

Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) is an unlucky goofus living in Chandni Chowk, India. He is mistaken (or perhaps not mistaken) for the reincarnation of a great Chinese warrior by the men from a Chinese village that is under the thumb of Hojo (Gordon Liu), your standard all-around bad guy who can kill people with his hat. Sidhu, desperate for a change in his life and at the urging of his friend Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), who is desperate to find a way to China, decides to go and attempt to be the hero they think he is, in part because he doesn’t entirely understand what being heroic will entail. Alone the way, he meets up with Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), the pretty semi-famous star of a commercial, who is herself the object of mistaken identity — when she gets to China, she is constantly being confused with Meow Meow (Padukone), one of the evil Hojo’s henchpeople.

Culturally sensitive this ain’t. But then again, nothing here is really a part of American movie culture, unless you count all the Peter Sellers-like buffoonery from Kumar. In fact, more than anything else, this Bollywood-martial-arts hybrid reminds me of some It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World-era comedy epic. You can also see in it the legacy of some of Jackie Chan’s sillier kung fu movies but with the mash-up addition of singing and dancing. I’m not sure how fans of traditional Bollywood or obscure martial arts movies will feel about this you’ve-got-your-naan-in-my-sweet-and-sour-sauce combination, but I mostly liked it. Despite being almost three hours long, Chandi Chowk to China’s general sense of fun keeps it from feeling ponderous. I might have enjoyed an edited-down-to-an-hour-45-minute version more, but that wouldn’t keep me from recommending the full-length movie to people who want to see something completely different from everything else in the multiplex and have a high tolerance for camp. The movie is playing at least through Thursday, Jan. 29, at the AMC in Methuen. Can’t afford a trip abroad this cold winter? Here’s a mini exotic vacation. B-

Rated PG-13 for violence, adult situations and language. Directed by Nikhil Advani and written by Rajat Arora and Shridhar Raghavan, Chandni Chowk to China is two hours and 34 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.