Those who have watched “The Italian Job” will realize that this film (a licensed adaptation, no less) has taken only the central core idea from that classic. Abbas-Mustan, specialists in all variety of thrillers that includes fare for children (“Taarzan-The Wonder Car”) and even a family drama on surrogate motherhood (“Chori Chori Chupke Chupke”) now take on a caper film. A specially-chosen group of experts in diverse aspects like mechanics, computers, illusionism and prosthetics are brought together by Charlie (Abhishek Bachchan) to rob Rs 10000 crore (!!!) of gold as it travels from Russia to Romania.
The gang has to succeed where Charlie’s friend (Aftab Shivdasani) tried on his own (why on earth is not explained) and failed. They have ten minutes to open the heavily-guarded speeding train wagon and transfer the booty to another train in snow-laden Russia.
Though there is little that is logical about this sequence and its build-up, the tight pace and crackerjack action sequence of the actual robbery keeps one on the edge and involved. The gang comprises of Spider (Neil Nitin Mukesh) the hacker, Sunny (Omi Vaidya) who can make a man look like another with a mask he makes, Bilal (Sikandar Kher), the explosives genius, Riya (Bipasha Basu), Charlie’s girl who possesses many conning and criminal skills and Ronnie (Bobby Deol) the illusion specialist.
The heist is successful, and then comes the first twist just before the interval: Spider is a traitor with his own agenda and kills Ronnie and Riya. The rest manage to escape, but in a way that Spider feels that they are all dead. Spider gets the gold.
The second half of “Players” changes rhythm completely. The illogic continues, but the pace slows down and now that the viewer has the luxury to think, the loopholes begin to jar with their sheer quantum. The flip-flop between a slick thriller and the Indian element (Charlie’s mentor and idol Victor, played by Vinod Khanna, is killed by Spider and his daughter Naina, played by Sonam Kapoor, joins the gang to avenge her father) results in an uneven narration. Some hilarious comedy is also introduced in the Johny Lever track, but the fun seems out of context and the link to the main script a shade forced.
The agenda also changes. Charlie now wants revenge as well as the gold. The twists keep coming, but the tame climax makes all the surprises peter off to just calculated surprises that do not lead anywhere special.
Abbas-Mustan has tried to cram every masala into the film, and the script (Rohit Jugraj, ex-actor of “James” fame with Sudip Sharma and others) becomes like a large buffet in which no single item is really satisfying. A weak music score (Pritam’s songs sound nice while they last, that’s all, whereas A-M’s films almost always have had a box-office boosting soundtrack) and limpid dialogues are major downers too.
On the plus side are Ravi Yadav’s brilliant camerawork and Allan Amin’s action, though the Mini-Cooper sequence is predictable and absurd at the same time. The Abbas-Mustan touches (Spider deliberately doing everything that his ex-team members wished to do with their share of the booty, or a couple of other twists in the tale) are what we take back from the film.
Yet another plus comes from the performances. Abhishek Bachchan delivers as Charlie, but there are two issues: one, he does not get the dialogues that match the intensity of his feelings, and too, he is made to underplay his role. As a team leader, he should have been more stylized and possibly even flamboyant. Neil as Spider gets the same handicap of tame lines when he – and ideally opponent Charlie too - should have had killer one-liners. But he impresses all the same. Bobby Deol, regrettably, is wasted, and Sonam Kapoor looks hot in the songs but seems a bit raw at the edges at many points. Vinod Khanna, Sikandar and Omi are competent in their limited roles.
But the surprise of “Players” is Bipasha Basu. Looking like several million dollars, she infuses so much life and substance in her role that it is only on reflection later that you cotton on to the fact that her role did not have any meat. She has truly evolved into a fine actress from the time when she had four standard expressions even in Bipasha-centric films like “Raaz” or “Jism” to the time she first began loosening up with “All The Best.”
“Players” is thus salvaged by these three – Bipasha, Abhishek and Neil – so that it is a time-pass one-time watch. But Abbas-Mustan seem to be carrying a “Race”-ial (“Race” was their last film) hangover where style overrides substance. Hope this talented duo, which has never yet given a bad film among 16 films in 21 years, does not fall into that illusionary trap. And speaking of illusions, wish the film had woven in more examples of Ronnie’s magic illusions and Sunny’s prosthetic genius.
Rating: **1/2 (2.5 stars)
Starring: Bobby Deol, Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Sonam Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Sikandar Kher, Omi Vaidya, Johny Lever, Shweta Bharadwaj. Sp. app.: Aftab Shivdasani