ZIYA US SALAM
COURAGE DOWN UNDER(At Shiela, PVR Saket and other Delhi theatres)It is time to tempt fate, ride your luck. The release of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's much talked about "Rang De Basanti" has been postponed by a week. The Oscar fever is still a few nights away. It's time, then, for the little birds to fly in and make their little nests at the box office.
Time for Prachya's "Courage Down Under" that seeks unabashedly to capitalise on the success of "King Kong" with elaborate shots of an elephant in the film's stills. There is no temptress here. There is a gorilla. And there is no parallel between this film shot largely in Thailand and Australia.
What it does seek to reveal, in the initial reels at least, is that in the world of humans, no animal is safe, no beast without a burden.
A worthy premise, and the film with Tony Jaa, quite a star in South East Asia, takes the viewers in its grip with a tale of land sharks and international tycoons being after elephants.
The mahouts are illiterate and gullible. The elephants are lovable and harmless. But just as the viewers sit down engrossed in this tale of human bestiality, the director decides to tempt fate again. This time he does not ride his luck. He trips.
As the elephants are stolen and transported from Thailand to Australia, and the mahout follows, the very human story gives way to yet another action thriller. The emotions subside as the director concentrates on action, unmitigated, almost unexplained and unprovoked.
Yes, the Jaa guy is good, very good, with his action. Some of the stunts defy the laws of gravity; most leave you stunned. And make an average Hindi filmgoer - this film is released simultaneously in Hindi, too, as "Haathi Mere Saathi" - wonder when, if ever, will Bollywood be able to rival the work!
But then the action pales after a while. It gets repetitive and monotonous. It gets under our skin. The director forgets about the elephants. The storywriter forgets the story. Dialogue becomes minimal.
There is no scope for emotion, no reel is spent on the mahout chasing his favourite baby, the giant missing his owner, the baby elephant missing his mother. Only the action director is still probably around. Hence fights and more fights. Some fisticuffs, some martial stuff, some blood - and then some more.
The camera is trained on Jaa. He is there in every frame. The other guys just encircle him in anticipation of a free fall, Thai style. Yawn.
Give us a story, mate. Give us a movie. This one is just a series of action thrills, pale and boring after the first bite. You can ride your luck for only a while.
WHITE CHICKS(At Wave, Noida; and Delhi theatres)The drag act has often fascinated Hollywood dream merchants. From "Mrs Doubtfire" to this one it has been a ride as smooth as a ramp walk with men shaving off their chest hair, hiding those biceps, and walking like baby dolls! Keenen Ivory Wayans walks down a familiar lane in this film where men are not always men. Sometimes they slip into stilettos, dab on mascara, wear a bustier and develop that eye-catching gait. Of course, the change shows to all in the auditorium - not to too many in the film though. No, they are not "queens", if you know what that means. Rather, they are FBI agents - they still pack a wallop in this hand, and their wrists still come next to iron fists. And they are here to save girls - real girls!
We know it is a standard Hollywood film - it has not exactly set the turnstiles jingling abroad and has had to wait its turn for a possible date with cinemagoers here - and in a formula film, all the fun is in the moment. Hence there are opportunities to laugh. Guys braid girls' hair. They also get into tights with obvious complications. And attract whistles from men with a glad eye!
However, laughter is fine as long as the sequences last. The smiles disappear when the story refuses to move, when narration drags. And the initial joy of watching the Wayans brothers, Marlon and Shawn, disappears when the going gets a bit corny.
However, Keenen deserves a point or two. In an industry where often a women-centric subject means a chick with brains in the refrigerator and an overdose of libidinal energy, he refuses to succumb to temptation. And turns a film that could have been a downright corny affair into one which you sit through, just making sure to look at the ceiling or admiring the plaster on the wall once in a while.
Interested in "White Chicks"? Go ahead, but make it fast. They might just flutter away, as tougher competition looms large at the box office.