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Action Replayy
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by Jay Seaver

"Needs to copy a certain similar film more."
3 stars

Western movie fans may have some doubts about the provenance of Vipul Amrutlal Shah's new film, "Action Replayy". It's an adaptation of a 1994 play with almost the same name (the play spells it correctly), although Warner Brothers, apparently not aware of this, made vague comments earlier this year about their lawyers being ready if it turned out to be a remake of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". Seeing the movie, it appears Universal might have more of a case vis-a-vis "Back to the Future". Probably not, though - the basic story has been used in a lot of places, and "Action Replayy" would be a much better movie if it had ripped off some details from Robert Zemeckis's film.

Bunty (Aditya Roy Kapoor) is a good-looking young man with a beautiful, outgoing girlfriend, Tanya (Sudeepa Singh), and he'd like things to stay that way; his constantly-bickering parents certainly doesn't suggest that he'd be happy after marriage. After a particularly ugly fight at their 33rd anniversary party, Bunty decides to fix things. Fortunately, Tanya's grandfather, Professor Anthony Gonsalves (Randhir Kapoor), has invented a time machine, which Bunty uses to go back to 1975, where father Kishen (Akshay Kumar) is a milksop and mother Mala (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is a bully, with the goal of making a love-marriage out of the one Kishen's father (Om Puri) and Mala's mother (Kirron Kher) had arranged.

Action Replayy isn't a fatally flawed movie, but it's one that frequently feels somewhat off-kilter. There are numerous examples of how, somewhere between the script and the editing room, the filmmakers make some odd choices about what is going to stay in and what was going to go out. For instance, when the professor is explaining his time machine to Bunty, the director and cinematographer frame the shot so the Bunty's phone is in the foreground, recording it, and we see the professor on the device's screen; it's a strange and awkward enough shot that one expects the video to be played back later, perhaps to convince the younger Gonsalves that he did in fact invent time travel Doc Brown-style. Doesn't happen. Similarly, when we first see Mala's friend Mona (Neha Dhupia) in the past, it's clear that she's attracted to Bunty, but the movie never does anything with that, at least not until the film is nearly over.

Which is a shame, because Bunty having to fend off the advances of his mother's best friend while relying on her help to match his parents up, her only becoming more and more smitten with every weird thing he does because he's from the future... Well, that could have been pretty funny. Probably funnier than a lot of the weak jokes that pepper the script, and maybe a nice diversion from a last act where Bunty sometimes seems to go a little too far in his double-Pygmalion act, butching up Kishen and softening Mala past the point where it's fun to watch Kishen have the upper hand. The script may deserve a little benefit of the doubt, though - many of the jokes seemed to be pop-cultural references that non-Indians like myself just aren't going to get, and the strong preference for arranged marriages over love-marriages in 1975 versus the present day is also a major element to the story. There's still enough broad slapstick and less culturally-specific comedy to get a few laughs, along with outright goofy elements like a man who can sing a duet by himself (Rannvijay Singh).

The singing and dancing is what moves the film up from "very uneven" to "fairly entertaining". Shah takes an odd, in-between approach to the musical numbers, often having his characters act aware that they are, in fact, doing them, even planning the things beforehand as if this was a normal part of life. They plan well, though - the music by Pritam Chakraborty is catchy and the lyrics by Irshad Kamil are frequently funny even through subtitles, especially after the first number (the only one during the modern day, and kind of strange, electronic and hip-hop-influenced, playing like a fantasy sequence but featuring characters in their 1975 looks before we've actually traveled back in time). The numbers in 1975 are a real blast, filled as they are with the decade's bright colors and sometimes garish fashions. They're big musical numbers that are probably a throwback to the Bollywood films of that era, and come across as old-fashioned fun.

The cast also, by and large, gets better as the movie goes along. Akshay Kumar, for instance, goes from pathetic to feigned confidence to the real thing, and makes a catchphrase that starts out silly work by the time he's done (usually, those things wear out their welcome). Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is fun when Mala is bitchy but lights the screen up once she's in love, and she absolutely manages to sell her change of heart as genuine, if quick. I don't mind saying that I appreciate the make-up artists' decision to go lighter on the aging effects for her than the rest of the cast in the 2010 scenes. Aditya Roy Kapoor is, if nothing else, energetic as Bunty, although he could do better in selling the character as genuinely anguished. A few more scenes with Sudeepa Singh's Tanya could have helped; the newcomer is winning and funny in her too-brief scenes in the present. There are, in fact, a lot of supporting cast members who seem like they could (and should) have had larger roles - Om Puri, Kirron Kher, Randhir Kapoor, and especially, as mentioned, Neha Dhupia.

That a good portion of the cast seems under-used in a 150-minute musical suggests that, at the very least, it has a lot of quality pieces. They just don't fit together as perfectly as they did for, say, "Back to the Future", and while it's perhaps unfair to compare "Action Replayy" to a legitimate classic because of a few plot similarities, it still comes out as being just average when considered on its own.

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originally posted: 11/07/10 17:07:08
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