The mildly entertaining "East Is East" sequel reunites the Khan family and retains the non-PC humor.
Playwright-screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din pens another chapter for his most iconic creation, the Anglo-Pakistani Khan family of Salford, England, in the mildly entertaining “West Is West,” helmed by Andy De Emmony. Set mostly in Pakistan, this sequel to the popular British indie “East Is East” (1999) reunites many of that pic’s central players and retains its broad, defiantly non-PC humor. Nevertheless, “West” smells a bit past its sell-by date; in the 11 years since “East” debuted, there have been so many culture-clash dramedies, the general audience appetite for this sort of thing may have already been whetted.
Set in 1976, five years after the events of “East Is East,” the film opens with 15-year-old Sajid (lively newcomer Aqib Khan), the last of George (Om Puri) and Ella’s (Linda Bassett) large brood, being bullied at school because of his Pakistani background. His older siblings, solid northern Englanders, have long since left home, tired of fighting with their tyrannical father over their thoroughly assimilated ways.
When the troubled Sajid is picked up for shoplifting, George decides to dispatch him to his first wife (Ila Arun) in rural Pakistan so he can learn pride in his heritage. Accompanying the lad, George makes his first trip home in 30 years, enabling a belated coming-of-age story for himself as well.
At first rebellious and unhappy, Sajid learns to overcome his distaste for traditional clothing and toilets (both running jokes) and eventually thrives under the tutelage of wise Sufi Pir Naseem (Nadim Sawalha), who voices the film’s underlying theme that the life one chooses is not the life one leaves behind. Illustrating this, George tries to come to terms with the family he abandoned and the culture to which he no longer completely belongs.
Though Sajid’s cheekiness and George’s bluster start to wear thin as the characters overstay their visit, the energy level perks up again around the 80-minute mark with the unexpected arrival of Ella and her best pal Annie (Leslee Nicol), English to the core in their matching polyester pantsuits. Uncertain of what is going on and upset by the fact that George emptied their joint back account, Ella is determined to have it out with him.
Vet Brit TV helmer De Emmony keeps the action moving briskly with a broad, sitcom vigor, seeming as comfortable in the remote hills and valleys of Chandigarh, India (standing in for Pakistan), as in the urban byways of Manchester, England. Thesping, too, is geared to an oversized sitcom brightness, although Bassett and Arun create some quietly affecting, sincerely emotional moments as George’s put-upon wives.
Standing out in a pro tech package, the warm, colorful production values of the east form a marked contrast to the chilly grays and blues of the west. Short but cheery epilogue presages how curry and kebob became England’s national cuisine.