Brett Ratner and Bollywood cinema, together at last! Although maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised by such a partnership. In a world where two rival parties at each other’s throats one day can form a happy union within the week, the idea that Ratner, a man not known for his subtlety behind the camera, should be attracted to Bollywood cinema, where subtlety comes with an order of extravagant dance numbers and six different genres to go, isn’t that far-fetched.
Officially billed as a “Brett Ratner Presentation”, Kites: The Remix is more than just a rubber stamping by a filmmaker who happened to like what he saw. Ratner’s involvement is to reduce Kites (can I drop the Remix bit? I feel like I’m advertising a dance album) from its original running time of 130 minutes to a zippier 90, redo the score with Graeme Revell, and bring his sound effects crew in to make each action set piece as ear-crunching as it can be.
Does it work? Well, in its own very special way, yes. While it’s difficult to watch Kites without being reminded of almost every other film from the last fifty years of American cinema, it’s also impossible to sit through without giving in to its sheer exuberance and chutzpah.
This may be the only film whose visual and narrative homages range from The Searchers to Showgirls, with The Grifters, Green Card, The Bourne Identity and Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet thrown in for good measure. And that’s just the opening ten minutes.
In fact, Kites‘ entire first act is a blur of genres, tones and film references thrown together, shaken up, and poured out to see where they land. No doubt this is in part a result of the Ratner edit, but it’s also long been a fundamental facet of Bollywood cinema: throw everything at the screen but the kitchen sink.
Here, it feels like the sink was the first thing in, followed by an entire MFI showroom. It’s a dizzying first half hour, not always in a good way, but it doesn’t stay still long enough for you to tire of anything. One minute our leading man is dressed in his best Frank Sinatra get-up chewing a matchstick like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra, the next making funny silhouette shapes on the wall like Ace Ventura.
True, at its core, Kites is a story about a boy and a girl in love, in Las Vegas, Hrithik Roshan’s ‘J’, a man so enigmatic he doesn’t even get a full name, and Barbara Mori’s Linda, also known as Natasha, who gets two to make up for it. It’s just that it’s having to fight for space amidst the film’s myriad distractions.
The Ratner effect (‘guaranteed to make your film shorter and noisier, or your money back!’) helps as much as it hinders, with large swathes of backstory and the obligatory Bollywood dance number exorcised to get to the film’s couple-on-the-run second half as soon as possible.
If Kites‘ first half is a bizarre collage of every imaginable style and tone, the second is more straightforward (albeit it still frenzied next to most mainstream films), an action film moulded from the Rush Hour school of odd couple comedy.
It pushes the film’s secondary characters (Natasha’s comically over-the-top gun-wielding fiancé, a classic butler-who-knows-everything-that’s-really-going-on) further into the background and Roshan and Mori’s genuinely appealing couple front and centre.
They look terrific, he all rippling abs and Calvin Klein underwear (just because you’re on the run doesn’t mean you can’t look good) next to her demure beauty. They’re also genuinely engaging, funny when the film lets them be and sharing a nice chemistry when they’re allowed to stop running and take a breath.
That’s a rarity, however. Director Anurag Basu throws in a huge number of set pieces, some good (a Bad Boys 2-inspired car chase between falling cars that steals shots wholesale from Michael Bay but looks better without the polished sheen), some bad (a clumsy jump onto a moving train), and some downright bizarre (an out-of-nowhere nod to Road To Perdition‘s machine gun-in-the-rain shootout).
It robs the film of the emotional punch Basu would have been hoping for, yet does mean that Kites isn’t boring for a single second. Kites is funny (sometimes intentionally, other times not), frenetic and, in its own way, absolutely charming. (I couldn’t think of another ‘f’ word.) It also dares to dress up Roshan in a Three Amigos outfit and play it absolutely straight. If only for that, Kites: The Remix deserves to be seen by as many people who paid to watch Transformers 2.