by HELEN GEIB
I don’t want to write this review. Kites is a stupendously bad film, and I don’t like to write reviews of movies I can’t say anything good about.
For one thing, it’s dispiriting, and for another, it’s hard. I know a lot of reviewers say it’s easier to write negative criticism than positive, but my experience has been that it’s hard to write a review of a worthless film for the same reasons it’s hard to write about an exceptionally good film. A film where everything is just right poses the same problems as a film where everything is painfully wrong: Where to start? Where to stop? When it’s all good (or bad), what do you focus on and what do you leave out? There’s also the linguistic challenge. There are only so many ways to say both “this movie is a triumphant success” and “this movie is an appalling failure.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean writing about a great film is equivalent to writing about a terrible film. Watching a great film is rewarding. Reflecting on it is stimulating. Writing about it is a worthwhile challenge. The values are all reversed with the bad film. Watching it is unrewarding. Thinking about it is depressing. Writing about it is a chore. The only advantage a bad film offers is that there’s no pressure; insight and originality not required.
However, I made the mistake of choosing Kites for my weekend movie, so here goes.
So where to start…. Kites is a new Bollywood film that tries and fails to “Bollywood-ize,” so to speak, a big-budget Hollywood-style action-drama. Anurag Basu is the director and co-writer. It is set in the U.S. and Mexico. The story begins and ends in Las Vegas with an intervening trip through the desert from Vegas to south of the border, and appears from the cityscapes, landscapes, and international cast to have been filmed in those locales.
Hrithik Roshan plays the hero, an Indian-American named J. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, he does go by the letter- at least according to the English subtitles.) J makes the mistake of romancing the daughter of a shady Vegas casino tycoon for her money, and the bigger mistake of falling for her brother’s gold-digger fiancee, a Mexican immigrant calling herself Natasha (Barbara Mori). They run off together, pursued by the brother, his goons, and a fictional police force serving Las Vegas and the greater American southwest.
To give the movie its due, the premise in and of itself is not the problem. The problem is that the execution is abysmal. You could drive a semi through the plot holes. The main characters are unconvincing. The supporting characters are overused types. The acting is wretched. The several car chases and couple of big shootouts are ludicrous. The film’s tone is schizoid, veering wildly from overheated drama to broad comedy to light romance to heavy soul-gazing romance to straight action to (what I take to have been intended as) post-modern ironic action- and back again and everything in between. The interpolation of musical numbers is exceedingly awkward and the music unmemorable. In short, every aspect of the filmmaking is inept.
The dialogue is mostly in English, with some Hindi and Spanish. J is bi-lingual (Hindi-English) while Natasha is mono-lingual (Spanish). (Possibly the only part of the film for which there is no cause for complaint is Roshan’s English; he is clearly fluent, and his speech patterns are as relaxed and natural in the English dialogue scenes as the Hindi.) Since he doesn’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English, J and Natasha communicate through the magic of love, which needs no words. I’m paraphrasing J, by the way.
The language barrier is seriously important to the plot. It’s huge in the development of their relationship. I’m talking really, really big. The fact that an imperiled Natasha- distraught, writing at gunpoint, and driving a pickup across the desert- sends J a crucial text message written in English is only one of the many imbecilities of this dreadful film.
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