He Knows The Name and The Number
You can't help but to compare India's latest cinematic spy with the established James Bond because of its many references drawn from what would be the longest and most famous spy film franchise. Agent Vinod still stands apart as his own man, although he could have picked up a leaf or two from Bond's formulaic book to keep the plot fairly interesting and chugging along, rather than to rely on a series of contrived conveniences that was fun while they had lasted, until it suffered from not knowing whether to keep up with the flamboyance of Bond movies, or to ground it more realistically to a world that Jason Bourne could have operated in.
Vinod does read from the same playbook. For starters, Bond cheats death almost all of the time, no thanks to villains who just love to break off into monologues, with preference to finish the spy off in the grandest way possible instead of putting a bullet in the head when opportunities arise. This leads to plenty of great escape moments, with Agent Vinod emulating the staple of Bond movies with a daring action piece before the opening credits roll. But because this is India, we don't get gyrating female silhouettes, but a nicely done animated sequence that would define Vinod the secret agent.
The task at hand is phenomenal just like any spy film that involves villains with megalomaniac plans to conquer the world, and here it includes a portable nuclear device that can fit into a backpack, being stolen and to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Encapsulating this plan is the mystery behind the number 242, and the Rubaiyat book of poetry, thus playing up real world concerns with a nuclear device falling into the wrong hands, and plays up Bond's cold war fears, in which case it would be nuclear Armageddon between arch rivals India and Pakistan.
Pakistan understandably had banned this film because it portrayed its officials as inept, corrupt and responsible for the plot to destroy India, but if one had watched the entire film, it presents a rather cautionary tale about the need to cooperate rather than to be arch-enemies, because being the latter exposes both sides to manipulation by world elites with resources wanting to exploit chaos for their own advancement, political or monetary, and this is what the real threat ultimately is about, and not as far fetched as one would think involving bullets and bombs, but that of an influential, shadow organization made up of the who's who in the world. But I suppose they don't take it too lightly to have their head of intelligence get finished off so simply, nor with a prime villain, the Colonel (Babu Antony), being of Pakistani origins and being unwittingly made use of like a pawn. But I digress.
Saif Ali Khan possesses the right amount of charisma and suaveness to pull off his character of an Indian RAW Agent who goes by the name of Vinod, but adopts multiple disguises and personalities in his tour of duty that he survives throughout with plenty of aliases. But even with such precautions taken, his rate of being captured rivals that of Bond's, as Vinod comes off very nearly as careless to a fault, never aware of his surroundings and being caught offguard for more times than I can care to remember. Worse, he doesn't have any fancy gadgets to rely on to make his great escapes. If this was Johnny English it would have been a very funny comedy, but playing it straight and serious just shows the ineptness of the spy we should be admiring instead.
Perhaps the only exception in characterization is Kareena Kapoor's Iram Parveen Bilal, who flip flops her allegiance and loyalty so many times, she becomes what could be a double agent, playing the side that's most advantageous to her at any given point. Despite being a real couple with Saif Ali Khan, their more romantic moments in the film come off as nothing more than sheer convenience, with little emotional grounding that somehow got worse and stretches the believability factor when the story decided to give the romantic arc a lot more focus in the finale. But from the get go until then, Iram is quite the force to be reckoned with, only so thanks to a series of plot conveniences and moments that go unexplained, and almost always to her advantage that this could have been called Agent Iram instead, that would have been a lot more interesting.
The action sequences could have been more defined rather than being quite derivative of other spy genre movies involving car and foot chases. Gun play also lapsed into the very generic styles and with villains always being hopeless marksmen when they have our hero as the sole running target to take down, with the other way round being plain opposites. Perhaps the only wow factor, that we see a lot getting designed in various films these days, is the singular extended tracking shot involving Vinod, with Iram in tow, grossly outnumbered but systematically taking down a bunch of goons in a motel. Other than that even the big bang finale was nothing more than a shadow of the George Clooney, Nicole Kidman starrer The Peacemaker involving the downtown hunt for a lone terrorist carrying a deadly explosive device.
Still, for a spy film, Agent Vinod had its moments, the rare ones as described in the action sequence above. If only it had taken a more straightforward route with a solidly grounded, diabolical plot, and did without the many loopholes and conveniences, and given Vinod a lot more personality traits, then we would have seen a potential for a growing franchise. Unfortunately Vinod limps rather than wows, and such is its wasted potential.