Who's Playing Who?
The directing duo of Abbas-Mastan created Race back in 2008 that deals with the twists, turns, and double/triple crossings between two brothers Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan) and Rajiv (Akshaye Khanna), against an ostentatious backdrop that included the requisite flaunting of material wealth, horse racing, romance, and shady characters that included the likes of femme fatales in Bipasha Bashu and Katrina Kaif in one of her earlier Bollywood roles. The sequel boasts no less, although with only Saif Ali Khan and Anil Kapoor as the now ex police inspector Robert D'Costa returning, but adopting a similar formula that focused on the con.
You don't really need to watch the first film because everything pretty much moved along in standalone fashion in this follow up, which spent a considerable part of the first half hour cementing the nastiness of brother-sister team Armaan (John Abraham) and Elena (Deepika Padukone). One's a street fighter who has never lost a fight, and brought out of the scene by Elena, the brains of their enduring and successful partnership, dabbling into various cons from casino tables, to just about owning an empire both in the light, and in the shady underworld. They form a formidable team, and individually, Shiraz Ahmed's story shows just how bad ass each can be, never batting an eyelid if they have to rely on good old fashioned murder or seduction to get at what they want.
We're soon introduced to another new character played by Jacqueline Fernandez as Omisha, a thief who soon hooks up with Armaan not only because of his good looks but more importantly, his wealth and wicked demeanour, while Ranvir enters the picture to try and gain trust from the ruthless siblings to take on a larger con together, with Elena sending out her foxy signals right from the start. For a Bollywood movie, this covers the romance angle where the leads have their counterparts to woo, or in this case accelerated into the expected song and dance sequence in lieu of something more kinky that can't be shown on screen.
But really, things just aren't that simple, where soon Ranvir gets involved with both women, though for different reasons, and has an objective and motivation that ties in with a key character from the past, as well as to answer the rather open ended prologue in this film. To say a lot more is to ruin the surprises that Abbas-Mastan have in store for audiences. This is a Race movie that has qualities to be expanded into yet another Bollywood franchise of rotating villains played by a top star for each installment, going along the Dhoom route. So expect that things will never be as they seem, and there's almost always a motive behind what someone will say and do, where loyalties can shift at will, and one-upmanship is the order of the game.
Which happens to be the film's weakness as well. Sometimes the flip-flopping extracts a chunk of imagination, coincidence and stretches one's belief that the con actually began many steps beforehand, like a chess grandmaster playing against an amateur, that surprises spring out from the blue, with constant smirking that one got on top of the other, only for that smirk to be wiped out by an even larger wink. It can get tongue-in-cheek at times, and opened up loopholes that would be best glossed over for the entire narrative to work. Heavy reliance on sleight of hand techniques also called for plot convenience, with its fragmented narrative style forced to hide, and then present details of the con.
Heavy reliance on CG is also telling, but here the CG still seemed rather cartoony, which suited the hyper-reality style of the world that the characters in Race exists in. It's entertainment for the masses, so Abbas-Mastan waste no time in plying implausible stunts in every death-defying escape, although a parkour sequence was expertly handled. Set action pieces get bigger as the film moved along, culminating in a really nutty climatic showdown thousands of feet in the air. It's one thing presenting large set action pieces, but another in presenting them well no matter how cheesy it would be. Someone forgot to tell the filmmakers to ease up on the cheesiness, but perhaps they had comedy in mind as well, with a key unintentional one given gossip rags on the John Abraham-Bipasha Basu relationship that will have audiences in stitches.
John Abraham's hulking frame got put to good use, and in what would be the usual Salman-Khan style, there's built-in opportunity here for clothes to be shed in a stylized MMA caged fight, for some brawn to be added rather than to put him in a role whose character is only interested in whatever it takes to make money, and horde cash, in what would be a major negative role since his turn in the first Dhoom. Saif Ali Khan continues with the swagger and poser requirements as Ranvir from the first film, playing the ultimate conman now with a more personal vendetta at hand, and paired up yet again with Deepika Padukone for the umpteenth time. If anything, Deepika's role as Elena fit into the typical Bond girl role, in having little to do, little to add to the story, but there for the eye candy. And she carried off the lightweight role really well, as does Jacqueline Fernandez in yet another sequel of her career. Anil Kapoor is grossly underused here, if only to serve as the plot's conduit between characters, and spending most of his time with his character's secretary Cherry (Ameesha Patel), leering and spouting sexual innuendos.
If movies with twists and turns at every other instant is your cup of tea, then Race 2 would be that popcorn entertainer you're looking for, with a good looking cast providing eye candy to wild away those two and a half hours. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and neither should you.