Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Roland Joffe’s The Lovers

James Stewart is a reluctant imperialist. He and his brothers are sort of gentlemen, but they hardly have a pound to their names. They are serving their military service during the time of the British Raj, to earn enough money to buy a farm in American. Stewart also happens to be Jay Fennel, a near future marine biologist. The spitting image of each other, the two men are somehow connected by destiny, the laws of physics, and a matched set of rings. Centuries pass, but love remains a painful force to reckon with in Roland Joffé’s The Lovers (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jay Fennel and his wife Laura are ocean researchers, who get to use mega-expensive submersibles to scour the ocean floor for shiny objects that might catch their eye—like say a ring. When Laura gets excited by a potential find, she carelessly heads down to the site, getting trapped beneath some debris. Manning-up, Fennel free-dives down to rescue her, but without the proper decompressing, he comes back up essentially brain dead. While his wife and doctors agonize over his condition, the film flashes back to the Eighteenth Century.

Stewart and his brother Charles are decidedly outsiders amongst the colonial establishment. They still think they take their orders from King and Parliament, but the governor makes it clear the British East India Company is calling the shots. Based on the Company’s wink-and-a-nod encouragement, a coup is staged within the Marantha royal family. Much to the new king’s frustration, the beloved queen escapes thanks to her protector, Tulaja Naik, who assumes her identity to further safeguard her security.

In a case of good news-bad news, the queen’s party is to be escorted to Bombay (as it then would have been called) by the Stewart Brothers. Once they arrive at their destination, the queen will be little more than a hostage of the governor and his cronies. However, the Stewarts are probably the only officers resourceful enough to protect the Queen and her retainers from the army of assassins following them.

The Lovers is a very odd film. In many ways it is a throwback to 1940s exotic ports-of-call films, but with a generous helping of New Age mysticism layered on top. It is sort of like Gunga Din crossed with Titanic, as mashed-up by Richard Matheson, writing in his What Dreams May Come-Somewhere in Time bag. Once known as Singularity, the film is supposedly structured around the principles of physics, but that fact will not be immediately obvious to even reasonably attentive viewers.

Frankly, the Eighteenth Century storyline is rather appealingly old fashioned, even though Josh Hartnett’s Scottish accent is almost as big an adventure as their trek across the mountains. Still, he can swagger respectably and develops some rather nice romantic chemistry with Bollywood superstar Bipasha Basu. Without question, she is star of the film, shining in her considerable action sequences and smoldering in her scenes of passion.

Although clearly shot on a limited budget, Joffé shrewdly uses the sweeping backdrops to give the picture a suitably big look, even when he conspicuously lacked the swarming masses of extras. Regardless, the primary reason to see The Lovers is to witness Basu’s American coming out party. Somehow she carries it across the goal line, or at least makes it an interesting viewing experience. Uneven yet strangely absorbing, The Lovers will be better than a lot of things out there when it opens this Friday (3/13) in New York, at the IFC Center.