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MOVIE REVIEW

'Chandni Chowk to China'

Kung fu pounds it out with Bollywood and round after round of gags, chaos and music.

January 16, 2009|Robert Abele

Everywhere in these tough times, people are trimming the excess from their lives. The Indian martial arts comedy "Chandni Chowk to China," however, which stars Akshay Kumar as a hapless food-stall worker who goes from chopping vegetables to hand-chopping bad guys, approaches entertainment with a more-is-more ethos.

Sold as a groundbreaking convergence of Asia's leading cinematic influences -- kung fu flicks and Bollywood extravaganzas -- it also sees fit to toss in rap video fantasias, commercial parodies, James Bond tropes and Looney Tunes touches for what can only be termed genre-mashup overkill.

Director Nikhil Advani and screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan don't so much tell a story as wage a campaign. Gravity-defying fights, epic song-and-dance numbers, juvenile slapstick, romance and be-all-you-can-be drama jockey for placement in a plot that boasts terrorized villagers, a reincarnated Chinese warrior, an albino giant, smuggled diamonds, a worshiped potato, poisoned lipstick, a training montage and generational revenge.

The cast multi-tasks too. Kumar's doofus hero starts out as a mugging, howling, crawling Jerry Lewis bumbler before he needs to become a village-saving Jackie Chan type (a character arc meant to reflect the actor's own biographical trajectory from unknown cook in the titular market district of Delhi to martial arts movie star).

Kung fu flick veteran Gordon Liu is both the main gangster villain and, because he dresses nattily and brandishes a razor-brimmed bowler, a shoutout to Oddjob. And female lead Deepika Padukone has twin duty, literally, playing a model and a lethally trained henchwoman separated at infancy.

When "Chandni Chowk to China" amuses, it's because Advani doesn't so much pull select items from a grab bag as beat you into submission with said container. And at a full-throttle (but Bollywood-typical) 2 1/2 hours, this hopped-up endurance test can't help but connect occasionally with a winking gag, cleverly staged fracas, toe-tapping musical detour or welcome loitering on Padukone's radiant features.

But one imagines even Hong Kong's own three-ring-circus filmmaker Stephen Chow ("Kung Fu Hustle") watching this and thinking, "Enough already."

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'Chandni Chowk to China'

MPAA rating: PG-13; in Hindi and Chinese with English subtitles

Running time: 2 hours,

24 minutes

Playing: In limited release

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