The Indian-American immigration dramedy “Green Card Fever” is the latest ethnic movie to deliver heavy-handed discussions on racial identity and discrimination. Not unlike a “Coming to America” or “Moscow on the Hudson” — minus the laughs and endearing characters — independently financed and distributed pic (which opened Fridayin a few dozen North American markets) seems unlikely to meet with the crossover success of “Bend It Like Beckham” or the niche popularity of last year’s “American Desi” (which featured “Green Card Fever” stars Deep Katdare and Purva Bedi).
Shot in and around Columbus, Ohio, pic begins with two young Indian men visiting America as part of a cultural exchange program. They decide to stay in the U.S. illegally and begin working a variety of dead-end jobs to support themselves. But when Murali (Vikram Dasu) falls for an American-born girl (the beautiful Bedi) from a well-to-do Indian family, he realizes that to get a better job he must first get a green card — even if that means becoming the pawn of a corrupt immigration attorney (Robert Lin) who is seeking to save his reputation at the expense of a more honest advocate (Katdare).
Title of the pic refers to a scam for issuing green cards. But while much is made of the scheme during the movie’s climactic John Grisham-esque courtroom scene, it isn’t even mentioned prior to it. Pic essentially oscillates between two modes: wide-eyed, naive scenes, in which the just-off-the-boat characters utter such awestruck remarks as “Oh my God. I can’t believe there are so many Indians in America,” and scenes in which Indian-Americans are depicted as either militant rights activists or true-blue American converts who’ve come to regard their ethnic heritage as something reprehensible.
Nonetheless, tyro helmer-scribe Bala Rajasekharunidelivers some lovely, understated scenes in the film, mostly between Dasu and Bedi, as they pursue their rocky courtship. In one of the film’s most tired narrative devices, her parents are intent on marrying her off to a man of their choosing.
A newcomer, Dasu has an ingratiatingly gentle manner that makes Murali sympathetic in spite of the script’s unwieldy convolutions. And he’s quite charming in the romantic scenes with Bedi, who essentially repeats here the kind of thankless role she had in “American Desi.” Pic’s tech package is largely undistinguished, with particularly harsh lighting and uninspired editing. But the musical score by Jefferson Starship’s Pete Sears has a catchy beat, and there’s also an enjoyably folksy ’70s-style ballad by Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat”).