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Too many twists spoil this Race
Raja Sen

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March 21, 2008 21:03 IST

Okay, I'm going to do you a huge favour here.

Highlight the following area if you want to read the film's ridiculous and completely irrelevant climax:

Akshaye Khanna [Images] and Katrina Kaif [Images] die, and Saif Ali Khan [Images] and Bipasha Basu [Images] split the cash with Anil Kapoor [Images], after giving him a death threat.

That, dear readers, is the climax of the latest Abbas-Mustan film, Race. And why I have just spilt the proverbial beans is because it'll be a far more interesting movie for you if you go in knowing how it ends -- and then spend your time in the theatre trying to figure exactly how the filmmakers reach that preposterous ending after the completely unrelated first few reels.

Trust me, my way is definitely better than their way.

Abbasbhai and Mustanbhai are veteran practitioners of the fatafat produced thriller, but this -- their biggest budget effort by far -- tries to be slick and stylish while actually trying to cling on to a plot. Therefore we have pointless, and constant, changes of direction to the story, at every given opportunity. There's nothing wrong with unpredictability, but it needs to be thought through. A-M bhailog, these many twists suit jalebiwallahs better than filmmakers.

Our film opens with horse races, but aside from having a few whinnying stallions in the background every now and then -- largely to frame a shirtless Saif -- there's really not much about that world in this film save for a couple of races, fixed with painful, amateurish obviousness. This is Durban and our top horse owners are archrivals Saif and Dalip Tahil, the latter again forced into an inconsequential, villain-caricature role.

Anyway, Saif plays a gruff and stubbly millionaire not given to much emotional expression, hiding most of them behind his big sunglasses. He does, however, intensely love his stepbrother Akshaye, a good-for-nothing drunk with a hipflask surgically attached to his palm.

Saif's sexy secretary Katrina is in love with him, we are informed by Anil Kapoor's voice in the sort of inconsistent know-it-all narrative that smells fishy, rather like scarlet herrings. Kapoor also tells us that Saif is quite hot and heavy with Bipasha, who models Provogue garments for South Africa.

And now begins the carnival of twists, with each character stripped bare to show money-lust where some shred of morality would usually lie. Here, it is only the characters that lie, throughout the film.

And while it's perfectly acceptable for a thriller to be dark and cynical and let the characters chart their own sordid course, it is vital to either a) have somebody in the whole film who actually has a code of ethics, or b) create characters compelling enough to root for, despite their hardcore darkness.

Here, the directors take route 'c,' the one that presumably stands for the all-important word 'commercial.' This is a simple route: it asks to focus on the stunts and the skirts, and let the twists lie there just for impact. Unfortunately, unlike the Dhoom 2 [Images] that this film is desperately craving to be, Race can't go all the way into the insubstantial and gets caught up in actually trying to tell a story -- and it's a helluva loopy tale. And it's nowhere near as slick as it needs to be.

Saif Ali Khan is completely wasted in the film, his apparent preparation for the character being not to shave for a while, and to perhaps trim a few kilos so that the immense suspension of disbelief doesn't seem as abrupt. Not that it helps. He grunts mannequin-like through the motions, mostly looking like he wandered on the sets from another film.

Akshaye Khanna has the film's main role, and while his smirk and his shrug manage a couple of lines alright, this really isn't a performance to talk about. Never convincing, the otherwise competent Khanna too seems to be phoning in this role, more at ease grimacing behind the wheel than actually delivering his constant, overwritten punchlines.

The girls? Bipasha Basu looks visibly uncomfortable in the part, squirming from one inappropriate costume to another, and really needs to work on her 'casual' English. Katrina Kaif looks significantly hot dressed in raunchy secretary gear, but the more she's kept away from the dialogues the better. Sameera Reddy [Images] plays Kapoor's bimbette assistant, and perpetually wears the disbelieving grin of a girl who can't believe she's getting to share screen space with Saif and Anil.

Kapoor, despite being armed with nothing but fruits and groan-provoking lines, emerges as the only character to like in this vague mess. Not only does the actor carry off a horseshoe moustache like it's nobody's business, but his post-interval entry into the film injects some life into the random 'thrills.'

All in all, it's a rank amateur effort. The actors do their bit, but they too are mostly detachedly going through the motions hoping the camera and the cool moments would carry them through. They don't. This is a boringly shot, shabbily edited film, and it's hard to imagine anyone watching it and actually feeling the twists without laughing at them.

Watch it if you must; it's not objectionably bad. But there really is nothing at all good about this Race either. Heck, even the horses seem sleepy.

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