Bollywood meets Hollywood — or rather, invades it — in “Kambakkht ishq,” a bold, brash, singing-and-dancing romantic comedy set on Paramount’s soundstages and Universal’s backlots. Featuring two of India’s biggest stars, Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor, with key secondary roles filled by Yanks Sylvester Stallone and Denise Richards (playing themselves), pic revolves around a classic, no-holds-barred, love/hate match between a male-chauvinist stuntman and a man-hating model-cum-doctor. Targeting the diaspora and beyond, this entertaining if somewhat uneven romp reps a strong contender in Bollywood’s ongoing quest to go global, opening July 3 at more than 2,000 theaters worldwide.
Viraj (Kumar) and Sim (Kapoor) first face off in church, each racing in dramatically and failing to stop the marriage of their younger siblings, Viraj’s brother Lucky (Aftab Shivdasani) and Sim’s sister Kamini (Amrita Arora). At the wedding reception that follows, battle lines are drawn between the sexes in a dazzlingly choreographed number that ends in a farcical brawl.
Indeed, all the musical numbers, from the garbage can-wielding motorcyclists on the quays of Venice to the multiple brides caught in the throes of a male nightmare, percolate with style and vigor, with none of the garish busyness or google-eyes that afflict some Bollywood romantic comedies.
Surprisingly, pic works best when fully immersed in the films-within-a-film context of Hollywood moviemaking. Kumar’s martial-arts expertise (he performs his own stunts) pays off big time in a string of impressive, full-blown action sequences. These setpieces are sometimes played straight, while others pile disaster upon disaster in perfectly executed overkill. The interactions between Viraj and real Hollywood actors like Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”), or Stallone at a formal Taurus Stuntman of the Year award ceremony, feel totally authentic; Viraj’s long-standing, flirtatious friendship with Richards likewise rings true.
If Viraj’s stuntman skills serve to balance out his otherwise unfeeling macho image, Sim’s oddball double career as supermodel and surgeon does little to offset her character’s ball-breaking bitterness. Initially, a modeling job in Venice enables sexy motorcycle rides and athletic musical confrontations with Viraj. But instead of sticking to the fashion world (Kapoor is always gloriously outfitted), the filmmakers insist on placing her in medical settings, presenting hospital rounds as a series of tired running gags. (Admittedly, the setup allows for a good extended joke involving a surgical mishap.)
Tyro helmer Sabbir Khan adroitly maintains high energy through most of the lengthy running time, ably assisted by lenser Vikas Sivaraman and a slew of gifted action directors, choreographers, dancers and musicians. Pic drags noticeably around the two-hour mark, during a recap of previous scenes edited in an interminable musical montage, but then rebounds with an ultimately hilarious, over-the-top bit in which Stallone is allowed to administer the coup de grace.