Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/13/10 01:33:12

"The all-singing, all-dancing, rock'em sock'em robot movie."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

"Enthiran" is long, uneven, and like many films that attempt to be all things to all people, frequently comes off as a muddled, drawn-out mess. However, the thing about the Indian style of filmmaking - which seems to be based on the idea of giving audiences everything they might want in a movie in every movie, thus creating Frankenstein monsters like this three-hour musical sci-fi adventure romantic comedy - is that at some point, so long as the folks involved are relatively capable, the filmmaker will either hit on something he does well or will combine things in a way that creates something as new and exciting as it is bizarre. That's what "Enthiran" is - a mess, but one with some occasional truly inspired lunacy.

As the film opens, Dr. "Vasi" Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is hard at work on his latest creation, so hard at work that his medical student girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is feeling neglected. Eventually he succeeds at creating this humanoid robot (and because the scientists who build these things are egomaniacs, he gives it a face to match his own), names it "Chitti", and begins training it so that the Artificial Intelligence Research & Development center can certify it for military work. However, AIRD is run by Vasi's old teacher, Dr. Bhora (Danny Denzongpa), whose own work on the subject has not borne fruit, and he posits that Chitti is flawed for lacking human emotion. So Vasi starts working on that - although, let me say, when you've got a girlfriend who looks like Sana, your incredibly powerful robot developing human emotions could lead to some predictable problems.

Enthiran was a longtime pet project for writer/director Shankar (like many involved in the production, he'd a big enough deal to be credited with just the one name even if that weren't the local tradition), and in realizing it, he's made the most expensive film yet produced in India. The money certainly shows up on screen: Not only does the film star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajinikanth (so popular that his animated "Superstar Rajini" logo dwarfs those of the studio and production company), but their fantasy music sequences are shot in Peru and other far-off lands. Several visual effects companies from Asia to America are brought in to do extensive digital and animatronic work, and while one or two bits of work disappoint, most looks good, and the extensive compositing is seamless. Folks from Hollywood are brought in to work on production and costume design, and Hong Kong's Yuen Woo-ping works on action choreography. The music by frequent Shankar collaborator A.R. Rahman is catchy, and some of the musical production numbers are very well done indeed.

Of course, no matter where you make your movie, a top-notch cast and high production values can only cover so much. This is one of those movies where someone watching it aware of its long gestation period can't help but wonder why, with all those years to tinker with the script, Shankar didn't fix one or two really basic problems. Take a scene near the second act, where Chitti is rescuing people from a burning building (a frustrating scene in execution, actually, as it combines clever staging with terrible CGI): One girl is trapped, naked, in her bath. Shankar spends time to show us that anything that could be used to cover her has burned, but then proceeds to play it as though Chitti has done something wrong. Of course, that can also be explained by every character in the movie being kind of a jerk: Sana generally seems to mean well, but she uses Chitti to beat up the neighbors playing loud music (twice in a row!) and cheat on her med school exams. Vasi ignores his girlfriend and then goes mad with petty jealousy. His lab assistants, Siva (Santhanam) and Ravi (Karunas) are basically sources of juvenile humor, and Bhora is the villain. If Chitti turns evil, you can pretty easily chalk it up to the environment in which he was raised.

For all those negatives, the last act or so is a lot of fun. It can still be ridiculously uneven in tone - it goes from Chitti talking to cartoon mosquitoes to a guy getting his head smashed to a bloody pulp without many stops in between - but once it commits itself to the path of the sci-fi action, it's a lot of fun. There's a car chase that holds the laws of physics in quite frankly awesome contempt, Yuen Woo-ping choreographing Rajini's stunt double doing crazy stuff inside a moving train, and a well-done action and effects finale. Shankar can even get away with inserting a musical number or two into that last act, even though that sort of thing can often kill the thrill-ride environment dead.

Every time I see and review a movie from India, I come to the same conclusion: If you didn't grow up with it, Bollywood (or, in this case, "Kollywood", as it's a Tamil rather than Hindi film) is something of an acquired taste. As slick and entertaining a movie as "Enthiran" is, and as much as it leaves a good impression by finishing well, it is a little bloated and scattered by Western standards. It's not a bad way to spend an afternoon; you just have to accept that in trying to have something for everyone, it's got more than any one person can handle.

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