Like many of their other films, director duo Abbas-Mustan’s new film, Players, is all sound and no genuine fury. It is grand scale without real finesse or grit. And it is not a heist involving real crooks; these men and women are actually morally upright, and they want to steal thousands of gold bars to build an orphanage. And for a running time of almost 3 hours, just a few thrilling action sequences can’t get this film going.
A remake of the 1969 British classic, The Italian Job, with Michael Caine and Noel Coward in the lead—which was made again in Hollywood in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron—Players is a multi-location film. It moves from Goa to Russia, and from Russia to New Zealand, as a gang of thieves prepares for a grand heist, masterminded by their mentor Victor (Vinod Khanna). Car chases in red, blue and yellow Mini Coopers can keep you hooked for a while. A sequence involving two speeding trains has some nail-biting moments.
Uninspired: Abhishek Bachchan.
The plot is set in motion when one of the thieves betrays the “players” and absconds with the money. Victor is also mysteriously killed on the day he returns from jail after having promised his daughter that he won’t stray into crime again.
The second half is a revenge saga led by Charlie (Abhishek Bachchan), Victor’s protégé. An illusionist (Bobby Deol), a prosthetics expert (Omi Vaidya), Victor’s daughter (Sonam Kapoor), a multitasking alpha female crook (Bipasha Basu) and an explosives expert (Sikander Kher) complete the team. Two of them double-cross, one dies and the rest of the team uses some banal ways to get the job done. A cameo by Johnny Lever as an Indian car maker who, in some absurdly twisted way, “rules” over white men and women, is preposterous. He is supposedly the funny guy of the film.
The original had characters with some idiosyncratic streaks; it has a fun, quirky tone. Abbas-Mustan have done what many producers and directors have proved safe for the movie-goer: Make it “Indian”. So here, the glam rogues are vengeful, righteous heroes. One of them kills herself for no apparent reason except that she is a woman, and that she has to make that ultimate gesture of compassion is implicit. A daughter’s rage over the murder of her father, a reformed convict, is taken to a laughably melodramatic extent. Who is this dumb “Indian” audience? It’s impossible to find that answer from anyone but our big producers and directors, who spend crores for the same introductory helicopter shots of cities, set to jagged motion and shrill music, for whom script is subservient to average action and stunts, and for whom acting is vain posing. Players makes me rake up those eternal questions and prevarications once again.
The cast is sorely underutilized. It doesn’t help that almost none of them is known for their acting skills. Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Deol and Kher are studies in stunted, contrived performances. Khanna is surprisingly stunted too. Bachchan redeems the film to an extent, but even his lead performance is uninspired.
Besides the complete inability to extract convincing performances, the writers, Rohit Jugraj and Sudip Sharma, have given shockingly vapid dialogues.
Players looks like an expensive film, but none of that money is justified. It has to be one of the most boring heist thrillers I have watched, ever.
Players released in theatres on Friday.