Genre mashups are a dime a dozen, from action comedies (“Rush Hour”) to the recent horror-western blend in “The Burrowers.”
“Chandni Chowk to China” goes one step further. It fuses the kung fu theatrics from the Far East with the Bollywood buoyancy of India’s best film exports.
“China” delights on pure novelty alone, and a few of its sequences dazzle more than anything found in, says, an overheated epic like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
If it only ran a good half hour – or more – less. It’s as if the filmmakers had to utilize every possible element from its cross-cultural DNA before wrapping the story.
A humble prep cook named Sidhu (Askay Kumar) is told he’s the reincarnation of a famed Chinese warrior. So he leaves his humdrum life in the Chandni Chowk section of New Dehli and goes to China, where the locals hope he can defeat Hojo (Gordon Liu), a crime kingpin who wears a bowler hat from the Oddjob collection.
Naturally, Sidhu is no match for Hojo or his goons, but he can’t pass up the chance to flee his ordinary life. Plus, his heroics just might catch the eye of a ravishing beauty (Deepika Padukone) whose path keeps crossing his.
Electrifying musical sequences bump into first-rate martial arts battles, all the while Kumar proves he’s a big enough talent to merit a Hollywood closeup.
Sidhu’s transformation from stumbling innocent to mean, lean fighting machine is just one of the film’s many miscues. Kumar’s broad performance works best when he’s in the David role, not Goliath. The actor’s gift for physical humor is obvious and works best when he’s bumbling – or dancing – his way across the screen.
He moves as if he had a double hot foot applied to his loafers.
The supporting players provide oodles of color, from the terrific Liu to Mithun Chakraborty as Sidhu’s adopted pappy.
But just when the film feels as if it’s steering toward a workable, if not remarkable, finale, we learn the story is just getting started.
The final half hour could be trimmed completely without losing any of the emotional framework, and a film which lives and breathes based on its energy level suddenly finds itself without a molecule of oxygen.
Children may love the broad humor while adults marvel at the eclectic camera angles and Carrey-like turn from Kumar.
Everyone else will wish “Chandni Chowk to China” knew when to quit while it’s ahead.