Exciting action partly compensates for the lack of scripting and thesping panache in “Agent Vinod,” a Hindi James Bond clone that even has a minor character named after famous 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum. Toplining a bland Saif Ali Khan as the spy attempting to save New Delhi from annihilation, pic is attractively filmed in exotic locations, but doesn’t sport the confident swagger and knowing humor to make auds surrender with a smile to its wildly fanciful plot. Biz has been just OK locally and internationally since the film’s March 23 release.Though stopping short of an end credit announcing “Agent Vinod Will Return,” this big-budget exercise bears all the hallmarks of a franchise-in-waiting; with an injection of the elan the real Maibaum brought to the Bond series, such an enterprise could prove successful despite this patchy first effort. The opening reels efficiently showcase Vinod’s fighting chops across several continents. After busting out of a heavily guarded fortress/drug lab in the Dasht-E-Margoh (Desert of Death) in Afghanistan, Vinod coolly executes half a dozen goons in the middle of a crowded St. Petersburg nightclub before extracting clues from local gangster Abu Nazer (Ram Kapoor) about a plot to nuke New Delhi. Screenplay by Arijit Biswas and helmer Sriram Raghavan hits choppy waters once the trail leads to David Kazan (Prem Chopra), a Morocco-based villain whose personal physician, Dr. Ruby Mendes (Kareena Kapoor), tells a suspicious Vinod she is actually Iram Parveen Bilal, a Pakistani operative working the same case as him. Story now calls for Vinod to show some dash and charm as he infiltrates enemy headquarters and enters into a potentially dangerous alliance with his Pakistani counterpart, but Khan’s performance barely shifts beyond the steely countenance he displays in combat mode. Though the pic is not entirely without humor, its appeal is dented by a hero who may be highly capable but isn’t particularly likable. Auds are not left wanting for high-octane action, the standouts being Vinod’s Afghanistan escape, a car chase through the streets of Latvian capital Riga, and a sequence involving a hijacked tuk-tuk (or motorcycle cab) on the New Delhi beltway. Also providing a boost is an impressive gallery of bad guys, including Ram Kapoor’s super-sleazy slob and Adil Hussain’s turn as “Colonel,” a smiling smoothie with ice in his veins. Despite being placed in a borderline ridiculous song-and-dance number at a wedding set in Karachi, Kapoor (Khan’s real-life partner) registers strongly as the female with possibly fluctuating loyalties. Slick widescreen lensing by C.K. Muraleedharan shows off diverse locations including London and Cape Town to eye-catching advantage. The score is a distracting mishmash of riffs from 1960s European spy thrillers and spaghetti Westerns jarringly mixed with contempo techno beats. Other tech aspects are fine. Pic bears no resemblance to the identically titled 1977 Hindi espionage comedy.
An Eros Intl. release of an Illuminati Films production in association with Eros Intl. (International sales: Eros Intl., London.) Produced by Saif Ali Khan, Dinesh Vijan. Executive producer, Smriti Jain. Co-producer, Sunil Lulla. Co-executive producers, Prem Pillai, Shwetanjali Rai. Directed by Sriram Raghavan. Screenplay, Raghavan, Arijit Biswas.
Camera (color, widescreen), C.K. Muraleedharan; editor, Pooja Ladha Surti; background music, Daniel B. George; song music, Pritam Chakraborty; lyrics, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Neelesh Misra; production designers, Rajnish Hedao, Sumit Basu, Snigdha Basu; costume designers, Manish Malhotra, Aki Narula; sound (Dolby Digital), Leslie Fernandes, Dwarak Warrier; visual effects supervisors, Keith Devlin, Merzin Tavaria; visual effects, Prime Focus; stunt coordinator, Oleg Botin; choreographers, Saroj Khan, Bosco-Caesar; line producer, Ravi Sarin; assistant director, Chetana Kowshik; casting, Imran Giles. Reviewed at Westfield Marion Cinema, Adelaide, April 1, 2012. Running time: 156 MIN. (I: 74 MIN.; II: 82 MIN.)
Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Adil Hussain, Ram Kapoor, Shabaaz Khan, Zakir Hussain, Lalit Parimoo, Rajat Kapoor, Anshuman Singh, B.P. Singh, Ravi Kishan, Gulshan Grover. (Hindi, English dialogue)
Data provided by:Nielsen Media Research (Preliminary Results)