Everything about the American-set Bollywood movie Kites is over the top: The extreme and often garish settings, the outsized emotions, the broad acting, the massive action setpieces. Only the wafer-thin plot is simple, but given the movie’s emphatic tone, even that comes buried in exclamation points. It’s such a basic setup that it wavers between timeless and trite: A beautiful woman (Bárbara Mori) is caught between a rich creep ready to marry her (Nicholas Brown) and a poor would-be lover (Indian mega-star Hrithik Roshan) with little to offer but sincere devotion. It worked in Titanic, and it might work here, if the film could stop with the car chases, shoot-’em-ups, and self-admiration long enough to take just a few deep breaths.
Kites’ press material eagerly emphasizes the film’s “accessibility to American audiences,” which is largely based on the American and Mexican settings, and stars who veer between English, Hindi, and Spanish seemingly at random. (A 90-minute “remix” cut by Rush Hour director Brett Ratner emphasizes the English dialogue and cuts a gratuitous but energetically fun dance-contest sequence, among other things.) But the filmmakers clearly visualize Mexico only as a charming backwater of adobe houses and sombreros, and America as the place they’ve seen on TV and action movies, a garish blur of Las Vegas’ burning neon, an Old West saloon, and vast plains filled with racing, exploding police cars. The screenplay reads as though the filmmakers worked through a checklist, trying to mash together the cinematic loves of a clichéd American audience (gunfights, chase scenes, romantic-comedy angry banter, sex) with the loves of a clichéd Indian audience (a dance sequence, good-hearted poor men, evil controlling dads, forbidden love). They even throw in some nods to Mexican audiences, in the form of Mori’s hot-blooded illegal immigrant, who speaks Spanish exclusively (except when the plot requires otherwise) and is fiercely devoted to helping her impoverished Mexican family.
The results are too often ridiculously excessive—Kites generally reads like the Jerry Bruckheimer version of Slumdog Millionaire—but to anyone versed in Bollywood conventions, it’s a natural outgrowth of the genre, and a comically overwrought but still generally fun time. The story mines some humor out of the fact that Roshan and Mori don’t share a language, and carry on their by-the-book romance even when they’re thoroughly at odds and have no way of knowing it. They’re both gorgeous charmers, capable of projecting intense emotion on cue. It’s just a shame that that’s the only kind of emotion Kites recognizes.