Akshay Kumar must have felt that 2009 thus far was harsh on him. While I had enjoyed his earlier offerings of the year with the Hollywood-funded kungfu extravaganza Chandni Chowk to China, and his Nicolas Cage-like role in a thriller film like 8x10 Tasveer, critics have generally panned both of those films. Unfortunately I think he had lost me on this one, which was a film of two halves, the first which I enjoyed, but it became quite a drag to plough through after the interval.
Kambakkht Ishq is a film supposedly about the battle of the sexes, with Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor flying the flag for their respective gender. Their characters are both single-mindedly focused on their career, and marriage to them is an outdated institution. For Akshay's Viraj Shergill, he's a stuntman earning his keeps in Hollywood, and gets introduced through, what else, an action sequence. We learn that he's also quite the chauvanist and the womanizer, and his introduction, together with brother Lucky (Aftab Shivdasani), seemed to have taken a leaf out of Matthew McConaughey's Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, where he tries to rationalize with his brother not to get through with his matrimony with Kamini (Amrita Arora). In fact, Viraj as a smooth-talking ladies man, seemed like an amalgamation of all the recent McConaughey film characters.
At the same wedding, Kareena's Simrita Rai proves to be quite the ultra-feminist, and believes that man chase skirts for one objective only. Her views on stuntmen, being merely poor substitutes for the real thing, seemed to have plenty of potential at being explored further. But instead what we got was a rather meek attempt at discrediting those who work their butts off to bring out the best in action sequences, and the film seemed a little unapologetic at those sweeping statements. Simrita too was made to look like a Jeckyll and Hyde character, balancing modelling with medical school, where she needed the former assignments to pay for the latter's fees as a surgeon-in-waiting, which was already a first step in implausibility, adding to that a situation that was highly impossible involving surgery and misplaced personal artifacts, but probably brought on the best laughs when delivered by Akshay Kumar.
Then again this is supposed to be a comedy and not taken seriously. For the most parts prior the interval, there were enough moments crafted to tickle your funny bones. The song and dance sequences too were high energy, comedic, and needless to say Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor share some great on-screen chemistry together (the other collaboration I saw them in was Tashan). Akshay proves again that he has great comic timing and the initial song and dance sequences brought out some mischievious play when he tries to rag Kareena's Simrita, which unfortunately gave way to romantic melodrama in the second half where the narrative decided to turn it into a mediocre romantic film where Viraj does a sudden about turn in letting his heart rule over his other head, totally forgetting the challenge he was set out to perform.
Akshay excelled in what he does best as well, and that's the high octane, energetic role as a stuntman. While the film had managed to garner some street cred for it being filmed in Hollywood, for the most parts the large scale action sequences which Akshay was plonked into, turned out to be nothing more than the various set action sequences that are on offer when you tour the Universal Studios theme park. I guess that's one way of ensuring that the bottom line is being watched, but I felt it probably would have made it easier on the Viraj character if he was more of a performing stuntman in a theme park, rather than an actual action body double for some of the finest in Hollywood.
Sabir Khan, who had a hand in directing and co-writing the screenplay with Ishita Moitra, could have kept the narrative tight, and to have junked some really unnecessary characters like Simrita's friends and extended family, who just bloat the screentime, and probably were included to offer one counterpoint of advice. A swindler in LA who ended up spending a lot of time at the hospital talking about lawsuits was also a time-waster, being remotely funny and more of an irritant and again, unnecessary. I guess Khan has to re-evaluate necessity of characters in the next film he does, while keeping an eye on the pacing, and shifts in narrative from first half mostly passable comedic moments, to a second half filled with melodramatic, tired romances. While this is possibly a Bollywood invading Hollywood type of film, it should have gone a lot more beyond shooting on location.
Then again, that provided a reason for Hollywood stars to make special guests appearances largely by playing themselves in this film, such as Brandon Routh being the buddy of Viraj, Sylvester Stallone the idol that Viraj looks up to, and Denise Richards, well, being the temptress who becomes the competition for Viraj's affections. While it proved to be a novelty, with the crowd going wild each time they appeared, it was quite a wait for the latter two stars to appear, after the interval no less. Additional glamour came in the form of canned red-carpet images, so that the likes of Brangelina, and Tom cruise could sneak an uncredited appearance.
Kambakkht Ishq could have been engaging throughout, and it's a pity that the narrative decided to tangent off its set path of predictability into implausibility in double quick time. On hindsight now, the trailer was cut with the most interesting parts, and should have really stuck to a more focused battle of the sexes tale. Watch it for the first half, and you can skip everything else after the interval, unless you must watch those Stallone scenes. Oh yes, and nothing beats watching this with fans who will wolf-whistle, clap, cheer and jeer at the characters at every step or misstep that they make. I guess watching this with a highly responsive crowd also helped to make it a little bit more bearable during the downturns.