Monday, December 25, 2017

Tiger Zinda Hai (Ek Tha Tiger 2)

Once again, a new Salman Khan film opens in time for the holidays. Usually, the holiday in question is Eid, but we get it for Christmas. It is appropriate, since he is delivering peace on Earth and good will towards man—sort of. Khan brings together the Indian and Pakistani national security forces, so you can argue that’s close enough. India’s barrel-chested super-spy Avinash “Tiger” Singh Rathore already reached a separate peace with Zoya, Pakistan’s ISI agent-extraordinaire. When a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses are kidnapped by Daesh, the happy couple swing back into action, bringing their respective agencies into line with them in Ali Abbas Zafar’s Tiger Zinda Hai (trailer here), the long-awaited sequel to Ek Tha Tiger, which is now playing in New York.

For eight years, Tiger and Zoya have been living off their agencies’ radar, raising their young son Junior in a palatial Austrian chalet. Unfortunately, when the Iraqi military wounds the Daesh mastermind Abu Usman, his terrorist forces occupy the hospital where twenty-five Indian nurses and fifteen Pakistani nurses have been stationed as part of a relief mission. The American military is determined to bomb Usman back to the stone age (as if he weren’t already living there), but Tiger’s former (and sort of current) boss Shenoy negotiates a seven-day window for a rescue operation.

Tiger’s’ plan involves going undercover in the Iraqi oil refinery controlled by Daesh, where they will fake an industrial accident that will send them to the newly militarized hospital. However, Tiger quickly finds himself in Daesh’s crosshairs after foiling a reluctant young boy’s suicide bombing. Of course, who arrives to bail him out when he is surrounded by ticked off jihadis? “Mrs. Smith” herself, Ms. Zoya—and she has ISI back-up. Soon everyone is working together and relatively happy about it, but Daesh has not made things easier by centralizing their command center in the target hospital.

TZH is the second film based on the real life 2014 kidnapping of forty-nine nurses, who were apparently released under much less dramatic circumstances, leading some Indian commentators to wonder what sort of deal their government might have cut (it wouldn’t be ransom, since Daesh is loaded). Regardless, it is somewhat encouraging to see Indian pop culture takes the threat of terrorism very seriously.

You can’t get much more serious than turning loose Khan’s Tiger. Watching him plow down Daesh bad guys with a high-powered machine gun in his tree-trunk arms is the closest you can still get to Schwarzenegger in his Commando prime. He also has some reasonably decent chemistry with the Hong Kong-born, British-naturalized Katrina Kaif as Zoya. They can dance and make moon eyes at each other during the musical numbers and then blast away at the terrorists during the action sequences, with equal credibility. Indeed, Kaif has moves worthy of HK action cinema.

Accept for the annoyingly shticky Paresh Rawal as the Indian expat fixer Firdaus and Girish Karnad as the weary Shenoy, the supporting cast hardly registers, but it is hard to outshine Khan and Kaif. There is a reason they are two of the biggest movie stars in the world today (you won’t find anyone in Hollywood who can put as many butts in seats, regardless of the picture).

It is actually quite an experience to see TZH in New York. Even though it is a Bollywood release, Khan clearly has plenty of fans in Pakistan. In fact, the film features literal flag-waving for both India and Pakistan, resulting in competing cheers from the near-capacity audiences. Unfortunately, the CIA and American military are presented in much more ambiguous terms, but it is hard to blame TZH when we won’t extradite the Mumbai 11/26 terrorist, David Headley. Regardless, it is entertaining and cathartic to see legions of Daesh terrorists get their just desserts (and there haven’t been a lot of American films that have been interested in going there). Recommended for action fans who can handle some shamelessly schmaltzy music and romance, Tiger Zinda Hai is now playing in New York, at the AMC Empire. Merry Christmas.