Synopsis: A series of seemingly unconnected events across the world leads super spy Agent Vinod to undertake a globe-trotting mission to investigate a colleague's murder.
Bollywood spy spoof falls short of its good intentions.
Far too silly to be India’s answer to James Bond and too self-consciously serious to be a Bollywood Austin Powers, Sriram Raghavan’s remake of Agent Vinod more closely resembles Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 capers in its stylised excess and hit-and-miss action/comedy.
Unlike that series' clueless charmer (played by man of the moment Jean Dujardin), the square-jawed, crisply-stubbled Saif Ali Khan is all business. However, despite his best efforts, the mindless shenanigans and preposterous plotting of this half-baked spy-spoof simply can’t sustain interest over the 150 minutes it takes to wrap up such overly-convoluted nonsense.
Kicking off with a balletic action set-piece in Afghanistan, our hero is introduced via the pilfered strains of Ennio Morricone’s ‘Man with No Name’ theme; ok, we get he’s a loner, a rebel. The pre-interval story then bounces breathlessly from one glamorous, international location to the next like a rubber-ball in a concrete bunker; Moscow, Somalia, the Latvian capital Riga, Cape Town, an auction room in Morocco, possibly to Riga again, then London. With undercover Brit agent Kareena Kapoor in tow (pure eye-candy; she deserves better), our hero becomes entwined in an incomprehensible plot involving trigger devices, assassination attempts and shifty-eyed henchmen ad infinitum.
Raghavan is a tremendous visualist – the first dance sequence, filmed on a vast nightclub set as the hero takes down an evil posse, throbs with intensity; a snowy graveyard hit in the Russian countryside is beautifully staged. There are also some nice witticisms in the script co-written by Raghavan and Arijit Biswas, notably when the undercover spy is juiced-up on truth serum and in one darkly humourous moment involving a villain and a sick camel (don’t ask...).
Clearly, Raghavan is a lover of cinema history; a deeply reverential series of nods and homages are employed (as was the case in his previous film, Johnny Gaddaar), recalling such diverse inspirations as Casablanca, the Bourne films, the comedies of Italian tough-guy Bud Spencer and music cues from 70’s Blaxploitation pics. Given his 2012 version is a wildly-reinvented remake of a 1977 hit, Raghavan pays a great deal of warm respect to the old-school heroes of Indian cinema (cinema-deity Amitabh Bachchan is amusingly referenced; the casting of Prem Chopra and Gulshan Grover in key roles will please afficionados).
However, the film falls apart, irretrievably so, in its pacing and structure. Raghavan piles coincidence upon contrivance in the film’s first hour and it is damn near impossible to both follow and swallow. For all the frantic toing-and-froing, little tension is generated; the search for the meaning of a part message from a dying agent makes for meagre tension yet is played to the hilt. By the time the post-interval action finale revs up, there is very little viewer investment in plot or character, resulting in a hollow showiness that overstays its usefulness.
Tonally, Agent Vinod never entirely convinces as either a nod to the cheesy but lovable Indian spy-thrillers of the ‘70s or the gritty, modern secret agent genre. Despite exhibiting technical prowess and an above-par soundtrack from the great Pritam Chakraborty, Raghavan’s film is dramatically anaemic and ultimately disappoints.
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