Twin brother helmers Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla (billed as Abbas-Mustan) refashion the 2003 version of “The Italian Job” with “Players,” a rare example of a Bollywood remake that officially credits its source. Toplined by Abhishek Bachchan, this heist comedy globetrots from Russia to India to New Zealand, managing to mount a cheerful and enjoyable caper along the way. However, the pic nabbed only a meager $2.5 million domestically on its opening weekend, as local auds continue to favor Shah Rukh Khan’s rival caper, “Don 2,” which has ruled the Indian B.O. since its December release.
Beginning in Amsterdam (though shot in St. Petersburg), the action establishes Bachchan as master criminal Charlie Masceranhas, who, with the assistance of sultry collaborator Riya (Bipasha Basu), relieves an exclusive boutique of a diamond necklace. Lying low in India, Charlie visits his imprisoned criminal mentor, Victor (Vinod Khanna), who invites him to stage a major heist to bankroll an orphanage aimed at preventing wayward children from growing up to be guys like them. Victor insists the scheme be kept secret from his honest daughter (Sonam Kapoor).
The plan is to steal Romanian gold bars that have been held by Russia for “safekeeping” since the 1917 Revolution, but are now being returned to Romania by train. Charlie enlists a crack team consisting of an illusionist (Bobby Deol), a prosthetics genius (Omi Vaidya), an explosives expert (Sikander Kher), the money-hungry Riya and a shady technocrat hacker (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who goes by the name of Spider. As per “The Italian Job,” the successful robbery — improbable but quite thrilling — reveals a viper in the nest. Those that survive the betrayal must travel to New Zealand to steal the gold back in the pic’s second half.
Firing on all cylinders in part one, the helmers struggle mightily to outdo themselves in the second half, which hews much more closely to the source pic. As “Players” approaches its climax, overfamiliar elements — including small cars, natch — start to grate, and production values decline.
Nevertheless, the helmers keep things moving apace, handling some major setpieces with considerable finesse, particularly the train robbery itself. Intrigue among the various players avoids dullness between the robust action sequences. Bachchan acquits himself well enough as the suave ringleader, but is overshadowed by two co-stars: Basu, dazzling as the unpredictable femme fatale, and Mukesh, who supplies a Bond villain’s droll intensity as Spider.
The pulsing soundtrack maintains a high energy level, while the dance numbers are entertaining if standard subcontinental MTV fare. Basu’s gyrations as she seduces a Russian general (Vyacheslav Razbegaev) to “Ho gayi tun” are an eye-catching and amusing highlight, while another seduction number, the Latin-flavored “Dil yeh bekaraar kyun hai” provides Kapoor with her only shining moment.
Lensing quality varies in the Antipodean interlude, lacking the visual sharpness of the footage shot in the northern hemisphere. Other tech credits are pro.