Chandni Chowk to China -- Film Review

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Sidhu, a down-on-his-luck New Delhi cook, finds himself in contemporary China in what is billed by Warner Bros. as the first Bollywood kung fu action comedy. But "Chandni Chowk to China's" 2 1/2 hours of shouting, gesticulating, pratfalls and groin kicks will leave viewers with an MSG headache.

Warners' first foray into releasing a Bollywood film in the U.S. -- on a record 125 screens -- is likely to disappoint connoisseurs of both Indian and Chinese genres and pull in modest boxoffice results.

One day, while cutting vegetables at a roadside food stall, superstitious Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) spies a potato in the shape of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. By lucky accident, he meets two mysterious Chinese men who think he's a reincarnation of a mighty war hero and ask him to vanquish a villain terrorizing their village (shades of "Sholay" and "Seven Samurai").

Despite high-quality martial arts action directed by veteran Huen Chi-Ku ("Kill Bill: Vols. 1 and 2," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and capable if over-the-top acting by Kumar and co-stars Deepika Padukone, Mithun Chakraborty and Roger Yuan, "Chandni Chowk" is too long and overblown save for one endearing sequence in which Sidhu undergoes intense kung fu training.

Vintage toughie Chakraborty, as Sidhu's adoptive father, is capable of subtlety but isn't called upon to use it here. Kumar's love interest, Padukone (in a double role), sparkles and proves her mettle in action scenes.

Three days before "Chandni Chowk" hit theaters in the U.S. and India, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films edging closer to a foreign-language nomination. India's submission, the powerful and moving "Taare Zameen Par" by Aamir Khan, didn't make the cut. Sadly, that film never will be seen by mainstream American audiences; yet "Chandni Chowk" is enjoying a hefty publicity push. If only "Taare Zameen Par" could have gotten its hands on that magic potato.

Opens: Friday, Jan. 16 (Warner Bros.)
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Shorey, Gordon Liu, Roger Yuan
Producers: Ramesh Sippy, Rohan Sippy, Mukesh Talreja
Director: Nikhil Advani
Screenwriter: Shridhar Raghavan
Director of photography: Himman Dhamija
Editor: Aarif Sheikh
Costumes: Jaimal Odedra
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendonsa
Choreographer: Pony Verma
Stunts: Huan-Chiu Ku
PG-13, 154 minutes
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