The deliriously entertaining and shamelessly derivative Hindi “Kites” owes more to Hollywood than Bollywood, though director Anurag Basu borrows plenty from both, aiming to give Indian song-and-dance pics the same sort of crossover success “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” did for Asian martial-arts movies. Overlong yet still plenty accessible, the sprawling 133-minute trilingual extravaganza will see its chances boosted by May 28 release of a shorter (and reportedly racier) English-language “remix” cut down to size by Brett Ratner, which Reliance Big Pictures intends to open on more than 2,300 screens internationally (1,800 of them in India).
Despite the broad scope of its ambition, “Kites” centers on a relatively tight group of characters in telling the contempo fairytale-like story of a doomed love affair between Indian huckster J (emerald-eyed Indian heartthrob Hrithik Roshan, son of producer Rakesh Roshan) and fellow golddigger Lisa (Mexican bombshell Barbara Mori, star of hit telenovela “Rubi”), both trying to kiss poverty goodbye in decadent Las Vegas.
J teaches dance classes while trying to hustle his way to the high life — an arrangement that doesn’t begin to explain how he ended up in the middle of the desert with two bullets in his back when the film opens. Through extensive (and occasionally confusing) flashbacks, we meet rich-girl Gina (Kangana Ranaut, playing the daughter of casino owner Kabir Bedi), followed by her brother’s off-limits fiancee (Mori).
Gina serves little purpose other than to convince J to join her in an intense hip-hop competition (justifying the film’s lone dance scene, more in the style of “Step Up” than traditional Bollywood numbers). Rather, J — and Basu’s camera — shamelessly ogles Lisa. In one of the pic’s few twists, the couple are already married when they fall in love: Lisa was wife No. 11 in J’s scam of selling shotgun weddings to illegal immigrants, though neither wants to sacrifice the good life to follow their heart — at least, not until abusive brother-in-law-to-be Tony (Nick Brown) forces J’s hand, sending the couple on the run.
From then on, Basu borrows liberally from his favorite Hollywood movies — cars somersault and explode a la Michael Bay during choreographed chase scenes, while a rainy, noir-inflected back-alley confrontation hails directly from the Frank Miller school. Such homages continuing right up to “Kites’?” cliff-top climax, which Americans will attribute to “Thelma and Louise” while Indian auds will cite similarities to 1981 local hit “Ek duuje ke liye.”
As in the latter film, the language barrier poses a comic obstacle to the couple’s happiness, with characters switching between Hindi and English or English and Spanish midsentence throughout the film. As if to convey the lovers’ confusion, the subtitles occasionally opt not to translate foreign dialogue.
What the two social climbers lack in innate sympathy they more than compensate for through sheer pinup appeal, and lush lensing by Ayananka Bose (with Dutch angles and Baz Luhrmann-worthy flourishes) makes the whole ride easy on the eyes.
Seamless visual effects heighten the impact, dressing up the practical footage (for example, that final cliff is nowhere near the ocean, but in landlocked New Mexico, which provides diverse enough desert vistas to convey a sprawling Southwest chase).
Basu clearly hails from the “more is more” school of storytelling, leaving Ratner plenty of room to condense, though it’s unfortunate to see Basu pushing Rajesh Roshan’s music (which ranges from hip-hop to Enya-esque ululating) to the background, rather than featuring the songs as proper dance numbers.