Although ostensibly well-timed to capitalize on interest in “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Bollywood Hero” awkwardly stumbles over an assortment of cliches. Perhaps foremost, Chris Kattan strikes too close to home in terms of self-parody — playing himself as an actor who yearns for leading-man roles, while uncomfortably reinforcing why his career topped out with Mango on “Saturday Night Live” and “Corky Romano.” The dance numbers do bustle with energy, but everything in between in this three-part special is pretty much a slog through familiar beats recycled from Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies, with a pinch of “Sullivan’s Travels.”
For starters, the idea of yet another Hollywood-centric project where actors playing tweaked versions of themselves feels awfully tired. When Keanu Reeves appears as a pompous Keanu Reeves, it’s difficult not to think that “Extras” and “Entourage” have so been there, done that.
Frustrated by his moribund career, Kattan (after commiserating with “SNL” pal Maya Rudolph) impulsively takes a part in a Bollywood production. As the proverbial fish out of water, he’s working for a brother-sister team, Monty and Priya (Ali Fazal and the stunning Pooja Kumar), who are trying to salvage their father’s studio by building a movie titled “Peculiar Dancing Boy” around an American star.
After that, it’s pretty much, “Can we put on a show and save the studio?” while overcoming crises as the Indian filmmakers fret about Kattan’s bankability and talent. Along the way, he inadvertently causes a public-relations incident and begins falling for Priya.
Scheduled over three consecutive nights, the project bursts into Bollywood-style numbers a few times each hour, and those sequences are a treat, but after that, it’s mostly back to Kattan whining about why he doesn’t land Harrison Ford-type parts. Given that he’s the weak link here, you wish he’d just be grateful to still get Chris Kattan-type parts.
Beyond the setting, in other words, everything is utterly conventional, including the device of having Priya’s wizened grandmother bad-mouth Kattan without his realizing it.
Choreographer Longinus Fernandes (who did “Slumdog’s” “Jai Ho” sequence) is one of several alums from the movie’s crew, and IFC will augment this original event by airing a Hindi cinema retrospective. Ultimately, though, “Bollywood Hero” is another slim showbiz-centric farce, imbued with a trite “Being a clown isn’t so bad” moral.
“You should feel sorry for me. Not angry,” Kattan pleads to Priya at one point.
Actually, the movie didn’t leave me feeling much in the way of sympathy or anger. It just left me wishing they had sent in a better clown, and like there were better things to do than slumming it with “Bollywood Hero.”