The euphemistic way to describe the Bollywood kung-fu musical-comedy mash-up Chandni Chowk To China would be "inclusive," willing to mingle cultures, genres, and tones in the liberated way that only Bollywood movies can. A more accurate way to describe it would be "conceptual nightmare"—crass, schizophrenic, culturally insensitive, horribly paced, and shameless in its pandering to the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless, Warner Brothers has decided that Chandni Chowk will get the widest stateside exposure of any Bollywood film to date, perhaps because the kung-fu angle (with choreography by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill martial-arts coordinator Huen Chiu-Ku) might enhance its crossover appeal. But as introductions go, the biggest film industry in the world isn't exactly putting its best foot forward.
In very broad strokes, the story mirrors that of its hugely popular star, Akshay Kumar, who once worked in a kitchen and later learned martial arts before becoming a Bollywood heartthrob. Chandni Chowk follows Kumar's life journey from the streets of Delhi to the Great Wall Of China, effectively covering the two most populous nations on the Earth. (The film is commercially savvy, if nothing else.) Though a total buffoon with no fighting skills whatsoever, Kumar is believed to host the reincarnated spirit of a great warrior, and a Chinese mining village calls upon him to expel their evil oppressor (the legendary Gordon Liu). Deepika Padukone plays his love interest, an absurdly beautiful Indian model who tries to track down her long-lost twin sister, now one of Liu's chief enforcers.
Though shorter than most Bollywood fare at 140 minutes, Chandni Chowk is overstuffed in all the wrong ways, needlessly complicating a simple fish-out-of-water premise and layering flashback on top of flashback to account for Padukone's backstory. (If viewers drink a shot whenever they hear the broken-music-box "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" music cue, or witness a single tear streaming down Padukone's doe-like face, they'll have to take cabs home from the theater.) But the film's biggest problem is Kumar, who acquits himself nicely in the kung-fu sequences, but has no talent for physical buffoonery. Jackie Chan and Steven Chow have nothing to worry about.