Movie Review: With 'Chandni Chowk,' Bollywood Delivers a Live-Action Cartoon

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Chandni Chowk to China" is a combo platter of Bollywood excess and classic kung fu, which also includes musical numbers, cheesy effects, cultural insensitivity, heartfelt monologues, a human-size potato and a hip-hop video starring Pakistani American rapper Bohemia. It's a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon that lasts 154 minutes rather than just five, and it's as exhausting as it sounds.

Sidhu, a loser from the Dehli neighborhood of Chandni Chowk, travels East, fooled into believing he's the reincarnation of a great Chinese warrior. Overmatched in a battle with a local crime boss, he transforms himself into a kung fu expert. With his long, handsome face, Akshay Kumar resembles Sacha Baron Cohen, and he plays Sidhu like a more pathetic Borat, bumbling through a land he knows nothing about.

Model-actress Deepika Padukone plays both an Indian TV hostess and a Chinese femme fatale; she's fairly credible in the double role, considering she clearly hails from neither India nor China but rather from Planet Ridiculously Beautiful. Less credible is Ranvir Shorey, an Indian actor playing Sidhu's goofy Chinese sidekick.

Warner Bros., presumably hoping to piggyback on the success of "Slumdog Millionaire," is giving "Chandni Chowk" the widest release ever in America for a Bollywood film. But be warned: the Bollywood-lite of "Slumdog" in no way suggests the toll that watching all 2 1/2 hours of "Chandni Chowk to China" can take on a person. Interspersed with amazing sequences are stretches of amateurishness, wretched excess, stupidity, tedium and flat-out weirdness that will likely have you watching the film as I did: grimacing a lot of the time, but grinning more frequently than you might expect. At the very least, it's worth seeing for the greatest fight scene ever that mixes a dozen thugs, a bowler hat, the Great Wall of China and an occupied Baby Bjorn.

-- Dan Kois

Chandni Chowk to China PG-13, 154 minutes Contains violence, adult situations and language. At AMC Loews Rio and Phoenix Theatres Union Station.

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