The Cookout (PG-13)
A low-budget entry in the oft-derided urban comedy genre starring a handful of hip-hoppers-turned-actors and, to top it off, one of those dreaded dump releases shipped off to screens without advance screenings for critics, The Cookout is the very definition of an easy target--and, in all fairness, it deserves every last bit of criticism. The story (conceived in part by producer/co-star Queen Latifah), in which freshly-signed number one NBA draft pick Todd (Storm P, who I look forward to seeing in a better film) holds an old-fashioned family barbecue at his new mansion in a posh, gated community, is nothing more than a threadbare clothesline barely holding together predictable jokes and, above all else, stereotyped characters: Todd's gold digger of a girlfriend (Meagan Good); a thug (Ja Rule) looking to cash in on Todd's sudden success; an uppity, whitewashed rich black neighbor (Danny Glover, whom I hope was paid handsomely for this); a conspiracy-minded wannabe lawyer (Tim Meadows);a takes-herself-too-seriously security guard (Latifah, thoroughly embarrassing herself); and the list goes on. Amid all the laughless loudness, however, there is an oasis of genuine merit: Jenifer Lewis, who is warm, funny and quite touching as Todd's mother.
Given Bollywood's penchant for, to put it euphemistically, take inspiration from and pay homage to Hollywood movies, an Indian variation on The Fast and the Furious was inevitable. What is surprising about the film in question, Dhoom, is the studio behind it--Yash Raj Films, synonymous with romantic fare, both dramatic and comedic--and how slick and polished the product is, featuring Hollywood-level stuntwork and production. That technical sheen lent by director Sanjay Gadhvi is certainly one of the better aspects of the film, but it can only go so far when others aren't quite up to par. Vijay Krishna Acharya's basic plot, in which a no-nonsense cop (Abhishek Bachchan) enters the motorcycle racing world to bust a the ringleader (John Abraham) gang of fast and furious thieves, is harmlessly derivative, but the other formula he grafts onto it--the old mismatched buddy chestnut, with Bachchan enlisting a goofball mechanic (Uday Chopra) to help in his case--is often painful, thanks to Chopra's largely unfunny mugging and bumbling whether bantering with Bachchan, racing bikes, or attempting to woo a member (Esha Deol, thankfully not called on to do much other than dance) of the gang. The comic un-relief plays like a forced masala concession, made all the more conspicuous considering how fairly fluidly Gadhvi and Acharya integrate the requisite musical numbers. Even when other basic components--the action sequences, Pritam's tuneful song score, Bachchan's effectively stoic action hero turn, and Abraham's charismatic villainy--do their job, it only takes one or two that don't to keep the whole from completely jelling, and that's what happens here.