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High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Monday, January 19, 2009

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Pestle: A La Card #2 @ Kitsch'n + Chandni Chowk to China

Today was mash-up day for the denizens of the Painful Acres. We used our second "A La Card" card for brunch at Kitsch'n (in its somewhat paradoxical River North location). We then repaired to Piper's Alley for a matinee of Chandni Chowk to China, which completely tickled my silly comedy–dumb action movie sensors.

It appears we've only been to Kitsch'n once before, and quite a while ago. I guess that's yet another point in the plus column for the A La Card Deck, as we had a great meal.

When we went in '05, I rather scoffed at the kitschyness of the Roscoe location, both on the grounds of my own desensitization to kitsch, and (I should have added at the time) on the grounds that it's in a very wonderfully kitschy area of the city to begin with. River North is antikitschy. Observer, for example, that this location of Kitsch'n is actually in the same building as Japonais. The interior of this Kitsch'n location reflects an awareness of a need to fit in. It's more that the booths are orange vinyl, the tables are chrome and formica, and there are groovy faux-vintage light fixtures.

Granted, immediately behind our table was a genuine, avocado green refrigerator, and there were shelves of self-consciously hipster toys, but it's a far cry from the concentrated, loving homage to the 70s at Roscoe. I also thought it was a little outside the mission statement to have large, shiny flat panels on CNN (and later on the playoff game, leading me to briefly wonder why in the hell they were letting Howie Long cover the inauguration).

Positively no complaints about the meal, though, unless we're allowed to complain that the portions are too satisfying, thus preventing us from trying the large number of things we'd love to try. I was lured in, once again, by the Green Eggs & Ham, and they were even better than I'd remembered. The potatoes that come with them are positively scrumptious, and I hadn't remembered the springs of rosemary, which were wonderful. I supplemented it with a simply marvelous $2 pomegranate mimosa. The ZK had the fried chicken and waffle, as well as a side of biscuits and gravy.

Another positive of the A La Card deck is that the $10 cards are for a variety of restaurants at a variety of price points. Whereas the card for Primehouse made a pretty small contribution to the total bill (although they seemed to have given us 10% off, rather than just $10), at Kitsch'n, it's a nice chunk of a really reasonable bill (even more reasonable, as our waitress, bless her, comped our coffee simply because there was a slight delay before we got our first cup). Yum!

Onward to the film, though! Despite a great trailer Chandni Chowk to China is getting savaged, rather, in reviews. What perplexes is me about the reviews is the frequent complaint that the movie is "stupid." Well . . . yes. It's a mash-up of a slapstick comedy, a typical Bollywood musical extravaganza, and a chopsocky movie. That's, like, stupid cubed!

It's exactly as formulaic as you'd expect: A complete loser (Sidhu) in a down-and-out part of India is constantly looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, much to the chagrin of his hard-working adoptive father (Dada). Said hard-working adoptive father is always there to (literally) kick Sidhu's ass all over town.

Meanwhile in China, downtrodden villagers under the evil thumb of Hojo (yes, really, Hojo), are looking for emancipation. Through various syncretic rituals, they believe they have located the reincarnation of Liu Sheung. They send an envoy to Chandni Chowk to retrieve their liberator.

Once the villagers arrive in Chandni Chowk, they enlist the help of Chopstick, a local con man who has been happy enough in the past to take Sidhu's money in exchange for amulets and other sure things, to explain to Sidhu what they want of him. Chopstick sees his own opportunity to ride Sidhu's coattails to prosperity in China. He tells Sidhu that "Dado Hojo (Kill Hojo)" means "Very cool." Although Dada's instinct is to continue kicking Sidhu and his Ganesh Potato (seriously, he has a Ganesh Potato, which you can go ahead and add to the list of things I wish I'd made up) all over town, father and son eventually conclude that Sidhu should head off for China.

While trying to get a visa for China, Sidhu encounters (and is conned by) "Miss TSM"—the spokesmodel for the Indian equivalent of QVC. She grabs his number in line and makes a break for China ahead of our boys. Initially obsessed with her hotness, Sidhu becomes obsessed with chasing down the cheater.

At the airport in China, Sidhu runs after a woman he thinks is her, but who turns out to be a pregnant Chinese woman. OR IS SHE?!? Sidhu is convinced that the "baby" is another con, and he runs after her, yelling, "Who cooked your bun?!?" The baby is indeed revealed to be a false belly filled with diamonds, and she is revealed to be Meow Meow, Hojo's answer to GoGo. Diamonds scatter everywhere, and soon Meow Meow's mug is on WANTED posters all over China.

As the villagers celebrate the reincarnation of Liu Sheng with a visit to his monument at the Great Wall, we stop back in with Miss TSM who is picking up a variety of samples (a universal translator that looks suspiciously like a bedazzled iPod nano, and a bullet proof umbrella cum parachute) from the nerve center of QVC. Someone asks a question roughly equivalent to "how's it going?" in conversational sincerity, and she answers with a 20-minute flashback montage to the day Hojo threw her twin sister and father over the side of the Great Wall, prompting her mother's suicide. So glad you asked!

Everyone who's anyone (or putatively been anyone in a past life) then converges on top of the Great Wall so that wackiness can ensue. Miss TSM (whose name turns out to be Sahki) is there to lay her father and sister to rest. Sidhu is there to get his Liu Sheng vibe on. Meow Meow (whose real name is Suzy) is there to kill Sidhu, presumably because the silliness of Liu Sheng reincarnate is just annoying in some unspecified way, and/or because Sidhu ruined her superfly diamond mule pregnancy belly. Oh, and by the way, Sahki/Suzy's father is there, too, because he's a bridge troll crazy amnesiac who lives under the wall.

Meow Meow fails to kill Sidhu. Sahki is mistaken for Meow Meow by the police. Meow Meow is mistaken for Miss TSM by Sidhu. Sidhu accidentally puts the police correctly on Meow Meow's track, thinking that she is Miss TSM.

Everyone except Meow Meow eventually repairs to the village. Meow Meow repairs to Hojo's lair, and Hojo sends her back out again to kill Sidhu, this time with poison lipstick.

Sahki tries to hide in a troupe of Chinese dancers, but she's eventually discovered in Sidhu's bed. Chopstick and Sidhu, now thinking that she's Meow Meow, subdue her and lock her in a wardrobe, vowing to turn her in for the bounty in the morning. Meow Meow shows up for the smooch of death, and Sidhu is frustrated with her slippery ways. Chopstick, presumably getting his first look at her, becomes a fan of her slippery ways. Nonetheless, Sidhu subdues her before she can kiss Chopstick, and they lock her in the other side of the wardrobe that already contains Sahki.

Sahki awakes and recognizes her twin through a hole in the partition between them. Before she can free herself, one of Hojo's minions arrives to rescue "Meow Meow." Meow Meow frees herself and is about to off Chopstick when he yells that Sidhu is nothing and Chopstick is everything. A lightbulb goes off over Meow Meow's head, and she drags Chopstick back to Hojo.

I honestly have no memory how the Mystery of the Duelling Meow Meows is solved. At some point, Sahki just . . . isn't there anymore . . . Oh, wait! She escapes and runs ahead of Hojo's EvilMobile to announce that he's coming. And indeed, he is coming, because about 3 minutes before this, Joey has somehow already returned from India and Hojo has a surprise guest: None other than Dada!

The villagers urge Sidhu to kill Hojo. Sidhu (very slowly) clues in that "Dado Hojo" might just mean something other than "Very cool," and Dada gets his throat slit. (But it's slit by a boomeranging bowler hat, and if you have to lose your great vessels, wouldn't you want to lose them with that kind of panache?)

Not content to also kill Sidhu on site, Hojo's help goes for narrative closure by chucking him over the side of the Great Wall, where he is miraculously caught and saved by Chiang, father to Sahki and Suzy (are you still a family if 66.67% of you don't know you are for one reason or another?).

Sahki vows to retrieve her sister. Chopstick goes to work as a spy for her in Hojo's organization. Sidhu and Chiang spend some time wondering why it is that Chiang seems to speak Hindi, and then they go for tea. (Seriously, I do not know why Chinese people even BUILD tea houses any more.)

From there on out, it's pretty much uncovered identities and training montages, you know? Oh, there's an opera, a codpiece, and a funny bit with a hot pink Razr that has an old timey bell ring. But you get the idea.

As I said: Formulaic. Twins separated in infancy? Check. Giant Albino Henchman? Check. Deadly haberdashery? Check. Training montage? Check. Dead mentors and multiple calls for revenge? Check. And so on and so on and so on.

But it's big fun! The whole cast is very good, and there are many stand outs in the supporting cast. Mithun Chakraborty as Dada is the film's emotional center, and it does have one. He's quite a wonderful hero very much in the style of Ben Parker. Roger Yuan is equally watchable as the drunk under the wall and as the kick-ass Police Inspector.

In the leads, Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone could easily have been either hate worthy or negligible, but they're both as charming as they need to be without fearing to be nerdy and inept as the situation demands. (It's also worth noting that Kumar is one of those people who is utterly transformed by clothing and facial hair. I was genuinely shocked that he's fairly attractive without the stache.)

I think it also has some more depth than it's getting credit for. Without hammering any kind of Message! home, it casts unbridled self-interest in a very negative light. In the end, it comes around to Dada's moral about hard work and belief in the self, rather than hoping for divine intervention.

I will concede that it's a bit overlong, although most critics seem to imply that the fights could be trimmed or more frenetically timed to cut some temporal fat. (Totally misses the glory of the chopsocky movie, where only ass-kicking, foley work, and long-armed yogis pad the film.) Some are more generous to the musical numbers, claiming these are the only charm the film holds. Were I to tighten it up, I'd probably have tried for a slightly less complicated plot, and although I love Dada, I'd have taken my merciless blue pen to the broad physical comedy at the beginning.

But for all its length and convoluted plot, it's a fun and charming movie. It's also a damned sight better than Paul Blart Mall Fucking Cop, and shame on you America for not knowing it.

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