Ready for a singing and dancing "Reservoir Dogs"?
That's what the makers of "Kaante" are hoping India's mass audience is eager to see, and while the Hindi-speaking film industry is looking to the much-delayed movie to give it a boost, it shouldn't count on any crossover appeal. On home ground, however, "Kaante," which translates as "thorn," as in "a thorn in the side," could conceivably connect with its roster of top male stars and mix of violence, schmaltz, fervid songs and flashy imitation of Hollywood crime melodramas.
Bollywood goes Hollywood with the film shot in Southern California, but as a perfect heist caper gone awry it is a stale, lurid, grade-Z rehash of everything between the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino film to Jules Dassin's classic "Rififi," served up with a lot of gaudy stylistic flourishes and stretched out to the epic length Indian audiences demand of their escapist entertainments, including a couple of obligatory musical interludes that have a certain endearing ludicrousness. Indeed, there is a steadfast earnestness in director Sanjay Gupta's deluded attempt to equal or even better Hollywood on its own ground that is rather touching -- but not to the degree that it sustains the film's many tedious stretches.
Gupta and co-writer Yash-Vinay's elementary script lands six shady Indian residents of L.A. in jail for questioning, long enough for them to complain about ethnic stereotyping on the part of the cops and to hatch a scheme to rob the bank that handles the LAPD payroll. They are Major (Amitabh Bachchan), a middle-aged businessman with a blot on his record and a dying wife; Ajju (Sanjay Dutt), a pimp; Marc (Sunil Shetty), a hot-tempered bouncer at a club where his girlfriend is the star attraction; Andy (Kumar Gaurav), a young computer whiz fallen on hard times; Baali (Mahesh Manjrekar), a bleached-blond madman; and Mak (Lucky Ali), the quietest of the group and the film's narrator.
The skilled Bachchan is an internationally renowned actor, but it is tough guy Dutt who has the corner on star charisma. A lot of the action takes place in downtown Los Angeles with Major and his bedridden wife living in an improbably tasteful suite at the Frontier Hotel, which hasn't offered such a level of amenities since at least the Eisenhower administration, when it was still known as the original of the adjacent Rosslyn Hotels at 5th and Main. (The thieves hatch their bank heist on the hotel roof, under the recently restored original Rosslyn sign.) The Mayan stands in for Club India, Marc's erstwhile place of employment.
On the technical side, "Kaante" isn't anything to write home about, but then its sleazy, cut-rate look and feel is actually appropriate to the potboiler that it is. When it comes to Bollywood breakthroughs, a far better bet was last May's "Lagaan," which paid affectionate homage to the Hindi musical epic with fully drawn characters, a serious underlying theme and a sophisticated style and point of view. In a sense, "Kaante" lives up to its title.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Much bloody gunplay, torture, brutality.
A Media Partners release of a British Nandy Communications presentation of a White Feather Films production in association with Film Club Ltd. (USA). Director Sanjay Gupta. Producers Gupta, Raju Sharad Patel. Executive producer (U.S.) Lawrence Mortorff. Screenplay Sanjay Gupta, Yash-Vinay. Cinematographer Kurt Brabbee. Editor Bunty Nagi. Music Viju Sha. Additional music Lucky Ali, Adnan Sami, Shiamak Daver, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant. Action director Bhiku Verma. Choreographer Shiamak Daver. Costumes Jerry Ross, Akbar Gabbana. Production designer Peter Jamison. In Hindi, with English subtitles. Presented with an intermission: Part 1: 1 hour, 19 minutes; Part 2, 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Exclusively at the Naz 8 Cinemas, Naz Plaza, 6440 E. South St., Lakewood, (562) 866-2444.