Grab Bag, by Jack Fleischer
I would genuinely like the entire world to see the film Ra.One. It’s not a great movie on its own. But for movie fans, it is an incredible and inconceivable mash-up assault of the last 25 years of mainstream American action and family comedy movies as seen through the eyes of Michael Bay’s non-union Indian equivalent. I made a list of all the movies this film reminded me of, and I’m sure I’m missing some: The Matrix (itself a remix), Blade, Liar, Liar, Bedtime Stories, The Tuxedo, Superman Returns, Virtuosity, Iron Man, Last Action Hero, The Terminator, Tron: Legacy, Kung Fu Hustle, Terminator 2, and Suburban Commando.
The simple plot description: A dorky father and video game engineer tries to create the ultimate video game to win his son’s respect. Unfortunately the son’s imagination is too good, as are his Dad’s video game design skills. Action and heartfelt family comedy ensue. Be aware that this description, while accurate, doesn’t begin to encapsulate this two and a half hour extravaganza of green screen wirework and wacky smirks.
Here’s what I know about Indian cinema: 1.) It’s heavily stylized. 2.) There will be singing and dancing. 3.) Not everything translates. 4.) They copy successful elements from other films.
Ra.One is a feast for the eyes with vivid colors that are so bright you can feel it in the back of your neck. The acting is cartoonish and overdrawn, as if painted on screen by Tex Avery. The leads, Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor are likeable and entertaining, but they’re also flat and don’t engender empathy. The music (which is just too darn loud), blatantly underscores every scene with a broad tipped permanent marker. In short, this movie is a wicked strong cup of coffee.
As confusing as their purpose may be at times, every dance number was a lot of fun to watch. There was even one dance sequence fueled by alcohol the same way Pop-eye is fueled by spinach. Dad downs a handful of shots and becomes a hip-hop singer. With an auto-tuned voice he joyfully sings about the jiggle of women’s butts. Mom then pours a few martinis down her gullet and joins in! Meanwhile the kid is in the next room alone, playing with the video game – which eventually leads to film’s first gruesome death scene – but I’ll get back to that.
The first half of this film takes place in London, the second half in India. The primary languages here are Hindi, Tamil and English. Yet, these languages are not spoken at different times. Instead every sentence is a mix of tongues (Tam-lish? Hind-ish?). This is especially noticeable when the English words used by the actors don’t match the subtitles. It becomes distracting and a little confusing. I will say that this off center translation makes this film even more unintentionally entertaining.
My favorite example of odd translation, a mild one, is when the villain says to the hero something to the effect of, “I put your wife on a train that doesn’t stop.” I sat confused for a minute, thinking he meant an express train, and then I realized he meant, “I put your wife on a runaway train.”
This film goes off the tracks simply because it doesn’t seem to know its audience. It begins very earnestly as a family comedy with a slight Spy Kids feel. A son who looks like the Indian version of the kid from Liar, Liar wishes that his dorky father was cooler. Dad then turns around and dresses like the Michael Jackson poster on his son’s wall. When that fails (surprise), he decides to design the video game he’s working for his son. This brings them closer together, and there’s a bunch of humorous lighthearted scenes involving this goofy and lovable family coming together.
The son, whose video game handle is “Lucifer,” tells his dad that an undefeatable villain would make the game perfect. Happy to oblige, Dad makes a video game villain based on the 10 most evil minds in history. Here the movie’s translation gets iffy. There’s a montage of the villain’s design including a large swastika used in the Hitler way, not the traditional eastern Hindu/Buddhist way, and an evil voice chanting in English, “THERE IS NO GOD!”
The game looks like it’ll be a hit, but before it’s released video-game-Hitler finds a way out of the program and starts killing people. Not lots of people, but there’s one scene in particular where he partially decapitates an old woman. This would be a hard scene to explain to your average Spy Kids fan.
From there the film disjointedly wavers between adult action flick and children’s movie. Ultimately this movie is superficial in the way that all the big budget American films it imitates are. The “BIG BUDGET” nature of this film is reemphasized with a behind the scenes look at how the more elaborate special effects were accomplished in a little musical documentary that plays beside the credit crawl.
Ra.One feels like an extended remix-mash-up of hit 80’s and 90’s pop tunes. You recognize the hooks, it makes you smile, but ultimately you long for the originals. This movie is being billed to reviewers as, “India’s most expensive film to date,” and while you see every dollar on screen, you have to ask, “What’s the point?”
NOTE: If you do see this movie, keep your eyes open for Indian Tom Sizemore, Indian Vincent Price, and Indian Robin Williams/Liberace. Also, can someone explain to me the significance of the words “buttercup,” “kondom,” and “bowls” in Hindi/Tamil?