Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RA.ONE: India Cranks the CGI

Two video game characters will continue their epic struggle of good versus evil in the real world. At least one of them also sings and dances. It’s not the super-villain. Combining Bollywood style musical numbers with Terminator and Tron inspired science fiction motifs, Anubhav Sinha’s RA.ONE (trailer here) opens today in New York after already setting box-office presales records in India, (a feat that should stand for at least another month, possibly six weeks).

Shekhar Subramanium is a game designer with a bratty son who prefers villains to heroes. For his birthday, Subramanium obliges him with RA.ONE, the monstrous bad guy more powerful than G.ONE, the good guy in his latest cyber-VR game, modeled on its creator. Lucifer, as the kid dubbed himself in gaming circles, is delighted, kicking RA.ONE’s tail in the game’s first round. However, when Lucifer is pulled away before RA.ONE has a chance for payback in the virtual world, the dark lord decides to go get him some in the real world.

While the film pretends to present a scientifically plausible explanation for RA.ONE and then G.ONE making the big Matrix leap to reality, it is really all just hocus pocus. Yes, there are ample science fiction elements, but the film also diligently hits all the traditional Bollywood and Tamil bases. A father dying before his son can tell him he loves him? Check. Flashbacks in the rain? Check. Redemption arriving by way of a surrogate father figure? Maybe, just maybe.

Though at first just a shortening of “Random Access One,” RA.ONE became a digital reboot of Ravana, the Hindu demon king, during Subramanium’s game development process. Similarly, G.ONE became a derivation of the Hindi word for life. That’s about as Joseph Campbell as the film gets, but there are some cool musical numbers.

It might be impossible not to enjoy “Criminal,” RA.ONE’s theme song by Akon, because it is all about booty and the lovely Kareena Kapoor (playing Lucifer’s mom Sonia) shakes hers like she means it. Likewise, the monster sample of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” makes “Dildaara” a real guilty pleasure. As a result, the musical interludes deliver the jolt of energy we expect from Bollywood productions.

Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) has probably sold more movie tickets than Harry Potter and James Bond put together, but he is definitely coming from a Bollywood bag. Kapoor’s Sonia Subramanium is considerably more multidimensional with an undeniable screen presence. Unfortunately the kid is rather annoying, but at least Arjun Rampal understands how to chew the scenery with proper malevolent relish as RA.ONE. Rajinikanth also briefly appears as the Tamil superhero Chitti Babu, in a cameo that will thoroughly confuse anyone not familiar with the film Enthiran and makes little sense within the dramatic context of RA.ONE in any event.

The biggest budgeted Indian film to date, RA.ONE did not skimp on the CGI and VFX, supplying plenty of people hanging in mid air, Mission Impossible style. Indeed, the effects look great, easily ranking on-par with major Hollywood tent-poles. Still, the story is more than a little silly (bringing to mind 1984’s Cloak & Dagger far more than it should), but what do you expect? RA.ONE is exactly what you think it is, except perhaps the “Criminal” musical number. For the right audience in the right frame of mind, RA.ONE is good fun to laugh and groove along with. If you don’t think that’s you, it’s not. If it is, RA.ONE opens today (10/26) in New York at the AMC Empire and Village 7.