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Film Review: ‘Humshakals’

There may be multiple look-alikes, but they don't exactly double the fun in this tedious, witless outing from director Sajid Khan.

With:
Saif Ali Khan, Riteish Deshmukh, Ram Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Esha Gupta, Tamannaah Bhatia, Satish Shah, Chunky Pandey. (Hindi, English dialogue)

Doppelgangers abound in “Humshakals,” Sajid Khan’s latest celebration of crass stupidity, in which a billionaire businessman and his best bud try to fend off a villainous uncle’s dastardly machinations — all amid the orchestrated chaos engendered by multiple lookalikes, each one more idiotic than the next. The problem is not the stretched improbability of the film’s premise, or even the political incorrectness of its caricatured stereotypes (this is slapstick, after all), but rather that the actors fail to come off as funny in any of their incarnations. Even fans of Khan’s bottom-of-the-barrel humor (“Housefull,” “Housefull 2”) might be put off by this tedious, witless outing, the pic’s strong B.O. performance notwithstanding.

Saif Ali Khan handles his role as affable billionaire Ashok with aplomb, ably seconded by Riteish Deshmukh as his inseparable sidekick, Kumar, while Ram Kapoor convinces as Ashok’s scheming evil uncle. But Ashok and Kumar’s mad antics during a board meeting, while under the influence of a drug that makes them act like dogs, feel unimaginative from the get-go and quickly become repetitious. Khan and Deshmukh show even less nuance or variation when they’re forced to mug like crazy as a pair of brain-fried paratha makers who not only look exactly like Ashok and Kumar, but also bear the same names and wind up incarcerated in the same insane asylum. Admittedly, Kapoor’s loony double, switching from lollipop-sucking gentility to murderous rage whenever someone sneezes, fares better than the others, even if the one-note joke soon wears thin.

The three guys’ next incarnation finds them in drag, fending off the nocturnal advances of their pheromone-intoxicated doubles, an endless dumbass routine that is then repeated in daylight. By the time we get the mincing gay version of this tiresome trio, the gags have become so lame that they almost cease to be offensive, except as comedy.

The film is set, for no discernible reason, in London, where British characters of various ethnicities slip from English to Hindi at the drop of a hat. The mind-numbing finale — featuring a bomb-planting drug dealer, his two midget minions, a faux Prince Charles, Ashok’s comatose father and the film’s full complement of humshakal (the Urdu word for “lookalike,” which the director pluralized for English-speaking audiences), along with the two heroes’ three curvaceous love interests and assorted extras — unfolds in in a round-robin free-for-all in the Houses of Parliament.

It’s difficult to apportion blame in this all-around fiasco of a farce, outside the signature tastelessness of director Khan. The musical numbers, more frenetic than joyful, are cobbled together from utterly generic tropes. In scenes involving billionaire Ashok’s cutely failed career as a standup comedian, which sends non-paying audiences walking out in disgust, the script can’t even manage to conjure up deliberately bad one-liners; Ashok’s mildly ineffective old chestnuts prove less hoary than most of this picture’s actual routines.

Film Review: 'Humshakals'

Reviewed at Dolby 88, New York, June 19, 2014. Running time: 159 MIN. (I: 83 MIN., II: 76 MIN.)

Production: (India) A Fox Star Studios release of a Pooja Entertainment production. Produced by Vashu Bhagnani. Co-producer, Akshai Puri.

Crew: Directed by Sajid Khan. Screenplay, Khan, Robin Bhatt, Akarsh Khurana; dialogue, Khan, Adhir Bhatt. Camera (color, widescreen), Ravi Yadav; editor, Bunty Nagi; music, Sandeep Shirodkar; songs, Himesh Reshammiya; lyrics, Mayur Puri; costume designers, Mohit Rai, Kunal Rawal, Aastha Sharma, Sonia Tommy; sound, Leslie Fernandes; choreographers, Ganesh Acharya, Ahmed Khan.

With: Saif Ali Khan, Riteish Deshmukh, Ram Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Esha Gupta, Tamannaah Bhatia, Satish Shah, Chunky Pandey. (Hindi, English dialogue)

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