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‘City of Joy’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 17, 1992


Roland Joffe
Patrick Swayze;
Pauline Collins;
Om Puri;
Art Malik
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Let's put you in the movie producer's seat for a moment. You've got this big project called "City of Joy." Based on the book by Dominique Lapierre, it's an in-depth drama about an American doctor who escapes to India to lick the existential wounds of his lost faith.

Roland Joffe, who made "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission," is set to direct. Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou is ready to film. You've got yourself a major epic. Whom do you put in front of the camera -- De Niro, Hoffman, Hurt?

Try Patrick Swayze. In "City," he's the M.D. with the blues. We're talking about the guy from "Dirty Dancing." There are golden retriever puppies with more angst. Yet there he is, all torqued up and ready to act, as he stumbles into the poverty-stricken Calcutta neighborhood known as the City of Joy.

People need help from all sides. Feisty Pauline Collins wants Swayze to run her undersupplied medical dispensary. Om Puri, an aging peasant Swayze befriends, needs a job to support his impoverished family. To make matters worse, the ironically named quarter is controlled by rickshaw-company owner and extortionist Shyamanand Jalan. But Swayze has soul-searching to do. Luckily for him, that's just a moment's deliberation. He's soon in there, delivering babies and handing out milk formula. He also helps Puri get a rickshaw job. Yet boss Jalan is ailing, and successor-son Art Malik can't wait to flex his muscles. A confrontation is imminent.

Cinematographer Biziou's sun-ripened images are exquisite. Puri is immensely touching as one who must continually forget pride for family matters. Jalan is highly memorable as a petty village dictator. But their efforts are in vain. Much of the acting (by Indian locals) is stilted; the script is sluggish and -- despite its immense potential -- surprisingly unmoving. Even if those things were improved, there'd be one insurmountable problem: the man Billy Crystal correctly described as "the former Sexiest Man Alive."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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