Thriller helming duo Abbas-Mustan go for the max in "Race," a high-octane, star-driven murder mystery with more twists than a pretzel.

Thriller helming duo Abbas-Mustan go for the max in “Race,” a high-octane, star-driven murder mystery with more twists than a pretzel. South African-set yarn, centered on two scheming brothers and the equally scheming dame in their lives, delivers solid, brainless entertainment thanks to a precision-built script and performances that are all in the same key. Pic has been doing robust biz since March 21 release.

As well as adopting the hard-driven, techno-rock style (in both visuals and music) now fashionable in Bollywood actioners, the pic (scripted by Abbas-Mustan regular Shiraz Ahmed) makes their 2002 double-crosser, “Humraaz,” which also starred Akshaye Khanna, look genteel by comparison. In its second half, pic sometimes seems to exist only as an excuse for another plot or character reversal, though at the end of the day, it does all logically — if implausibly — make sense.

Opening with a tautly staged car crash that’s only explained later, story intros Ranvir Singh (Saif Ali Khan), the super-wealthy owner of a stud farm in Durban, South Africa, and his alcoholic, sybaritic brother, Rajiv (Khanna). Ranvir, who gets off on extreme sports, is so ruthless that when he learns one of his jockeys has accepted a bribe, he simply kills him.

However, when Rajiv falls for Ranvir’s super-glam g.f., Sonia (Bipasha Basu), Ranvir doesn’t seem worried, and even lets the couple marry. In fact, the marriage is a business arrangement: Rajiv and Sonia plan to push Ranvir off the 21st floor of his office building and collect $100 million under a double-indemnity accident clause.

That’s just the beginning of a serpentine yarn that also entangles Ranvir’s devoted secretary Sophia (Katrina Kaif) and even suspicious investigating cop Robert D’Costa (vet Anil Kapoor).

Despite a small core of five main characters, and an initially straightforward murder plot, Ahmed’s script comes up with a whole string of hidden wrinkles to completely undermine what the viewer took for real in part one. Even small details, like Ranvir’s taste for death-defying sports, become important plot points, mitigating the sheer outrageousness of several developments.

Khan, who hardly ever disappoints nowadays, is fine as the lizard-like Ranvir, but it’s Khanna, often little more than beefcake in his movies, whose performance really takes on some depth. Kapoor, who doesn’t even appear until just before the intermission, adds some welcome humor, though his repartee with his dumb female assistant (Sameera Reddy) doesn’t really work. Basu and Kaif are nicely balanced as vamp and plain Jane, respectively.

Lensing by Abbas-Mustan regular Ravi Yadav is top-notch, and visual effects ditto. Five hard-driven musical numbers, including the pumpy title one, keep the heat high, though Basu clearly can’t dance. Pic is wholly set in South Africa but some (desert) scenes were shot in Dubai.

Race

India

Production

A UTV Motion Pictures release of a Tips Industries presentation of a Tips Films production. Produced by Kumar S. Taurani, Ramesh S. Taurani. Directed by Abbas-Mustan (Abbas Burmawalla, Mustan Burmawalla). Screenplay, Shiraz Ahmed, Anurag Prapann, Jitendra Parmar; story, Ahmed.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ravi Yadav; editor, Hussain A. Burmawalla; music, Salim-Sulaiman; music director, Pritam; lyrics, Sameer; art director, Aashish Anant Ranade; costume designer, Anaita Shroff Adajania; sound (Dolby Digital), Rakesh Ranjan, Ali Merchant; visual effects supervisor, Ben Murray; visual effects, Prime Focus; choreographers, Bosco-Caesar, Ganesh Acharya; action director, Allan Amin. Reviewed at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue 7, London, April 3, 2008. Running time: 156 MIN. (I: 72 MIN.; II: 84 MIN.)

With

Anil Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Sameera Reddy, Dilip Tahil, Johny Lever. (Hindi dialogue)
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