Thursday 2 January 2014

Catch me if you Khan: "Dhoom:3"

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The big Bollywood hit of 2013's festive season, Dhoom:3, forms a continuation of a franchise so drunk on the ideas of power and money circulating in certain American event movies that it could only ever end up travelling to the US itself sooner or later. 2004's Dhoom and 2006's Dhoom:2 were cat-and-mouse capers owing a debt to the emergent Ocean's and Fast & Furious series; their glamorous, globetrotting getaways were broken up with nightclub musical numbers and guest stars in the roles of the light-fingered mice preoccupying taciturn tough cop Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan).

Dixit, a sort of Hindi Taggart, may be the dourest character ever to have had a successful movie franchise constructed around him: in deciding whom to root for, viewers presumably have to weigh clan loyalty for an actor who's barely allowed to crack a smile - and has to be livened up through being paired with a horny sidekick (Uday Chopra, scion of another hallowed Bollywood family) - against their fondness for those performers having flamboyant fun as antagonists who convention dictates probably won't be returning for the sequel.

The seven-year hiatus between instalments appears to have done the franchise some good. Vijay Krishna Acharya, who wrote the first two movies, has assumed the director's seat, inheriting what looks like a substantially increased budget while bringing a few new visual and narrative ideas of his own to play with. The timelag also allows Dhoom:3 to play on/exploit viewers' post-crash cynicism about the world of high finance: summoned from India to identify the culprit behind a spate of raids on one particular bank in Chicago, Dixit actually gets to tell a boardroom full of suits "you're bankers: everybody hates you."

That culprit is Samir (Aamir Khan, from Lagaan), conceived as both a gentleman thief (his bowler hat is a nice, Magritte-like touch, worthy of 1960s capers) and a very modern mastermind (several of his getaways involve a bike that - as per the Transformers films - somehow reconfigures into a powerboat without rusting up its gears). That we're meant to empathise with his efforts is evident from a prologue that establishes how the young Samir saw his father blow his brains out after a committee of stony-hearted penpushers foreclosed on the family's circus; this plucky underdog's training in magic and rope tricks also means he's well-schooled in the kind of misdirection and showmanship that make for satisfying movie heists.

Khan, a Cruise-like performer who seeks to compensate for his diminutive stature by trying really hard, lends the film a certain physical heft: he stomps through an introductory tap number, does an appreciable amount of his own stuntwork in the chase and circus scenes, and - after a pre-intermission twist - brings the same bulging-eyed commitment to a second role. Though hardly original, this twist is smartly wrought, and given some emotional layering immediately after the interval, but it's typical of how Dhoom:3 comes to be compromised by a thick streak of naivety (just as its American equivalents overdose on their own cynicism): the one US film you wish Acharya had taken on board is Tropic Thunder.

Implausibilities come to abound, some more forgivable than others. In 2013, a century on from The Perils of Pauline, there's something to be said in favour of any film that climaxes when the villain of the piece ties the hero to a rollercoaster's tracks. Yet we're simply meant to accept that the head of Chicago's intelligence unit (Tabrett Bethell) would sport the most extravagant blonde hair extensions ever seen outside of a Chingford beauty salon; similarly, that love interest Katrina Kaif wouldn't notice she's been dating two brothers, one of whom happens to have severe learning difficulties. Somewhere within this mission impossible, there's an episode of Derek waiting to escape, with all the ickiness that implies. 

Still, if it ultimately resembles no more than a brain-in-neutral action movie conceived along unusually grandiose lines - and isn't immune to sequel bloat, stringing what should be twenty-minute set-pieces out for thirty, and thus clocking in closer to three hours than two - Acharya ensures the film makes generally diverting use of its time. The Chris Nolan-ish borrowings extend to the opening heist, which begins with a homeless man's change cup flooding with dollar bills, before pulling back to show Samir running vertically down the bank's facade, while subsequent set-pieces - Cirque du Soleil-inspired big top routines, Kaif's dazzling audition number, a final round of patrol car flipping - provide varied, screen-filling, generally enjoyable spectacle.

Dhoom:3 is in cinemas nationwide.

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