Michael Winterbottom maintains his rep as Britain’s most peripatetic filmmaker with “The Wedding Guest,” a somewhat conventional kidnapping thriller that leans on some fairly predictable twists to take it from Point A to Point K.
It’s another “road” picture, but this time it isn’t a Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon “Trip.”
It’s not an adaptation, as so many of his films are — re-settings of “Tristram Shandy” or “Brief Encounter” or the works of Thomas Hardy. But as always, the director of “Welcome to Sarejevo,” “The Trip to Spain,” “The Claim” and “A Mighty Heart” finds an arresting setting, and makes the most of it.
The novelty here, as it was with his “Trishna,” is that those twists and turns take his couple-on-the-run through much of wide expanse that is the Subcontinent — India and Pakistan.
Dev Patel (“Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) stars as a guy who stuffs his luggage with passports and flies to Lahore, Pakistan. The driver he walks up to is holding a sign for “Jay,” so we’ll call him that.
We watch him hit the rent-a-car places, renting first a Toyota, then a Honda.
We see Jay weave his way through the bazaar, little shops that can serve as tiny factories, or hardware stores (“Duct tape?”) or gun shops.
No, he doesn’t want the shiniest pistol in the case. The matte black one will do. Two.
“Jay” doesn’t speak Punjabi, but he’s here for the wedding. He’s friends with the groom. Or was it the bride? He cases the joint, finds out where everybody is sleeping, chats up the night guard.
And in the dark of night, he stages his two cars, dons black mask and gear, sneaks in and kidnaps the bride. Duct tape and pull ties, stuff her into the trunk, change cars to throw any pursuers off the trail.
Winterbottom loses himself in the travelogue detail and the logistics of how such a heist could be pulled off by a lone gunman. Motives? They become clearer the moment Jay tears the duct tape off and cuts the pull ties binding her hands.
“You know who sent me?” Samira (Radhika Apte) nods. He’s there to give her a choice, or so he says. This arranged marriage? In or out?
She’s…OUT. The London-educated Samira is being rescued by the man she loves! OK, it’s a guy PAID by the man she loves.
“How do you know Dipesh?”
“Never met him.”
“How much are you getting PAID?”
But as they wait for Dipesh (Jim Sarbh) to make the rendezvous, there are…complications. There’s more travel. There’s more to this than “love.” Or less.
Or is there?
Winterbottom gets so caught-up in putting his mismatched duo in assorted cars, buses and trains, taking them across the border into India, up and down the Subcontinent, that he barely takes the time to let them develop chemistry.
We’re treated to endless scenes of Jay locking Samira in this or that 2 star or four star hotel room, trekking out to acquire another car, more passports, to make deals and wrangle with Dipesh.
Who is, as we say in the states, “wussing out.” Or hesitating. He offhandedly remarks about how Samira is always “looking for an angle,” and Apte — a relative newcomer to Western cinema (she was in “The Ashram”) — lets us see that in Samira’s eyes.
We think she’d be panic stricken, fearful or at least wary. She never lets that show. She’s mulling over each new wrinkle, seeing which way the chips fall.
There are abrupt shifts –shortcuts — in the plot which are treated cavalierly by the screenplay, callously by the characters.
It’s the nuts and bolts Winterbottom is worried about, getting the characters and the production on the road to the next location. Patel and Apte cannot make their characters anything more than good-looking cut-outs, puppets yanked back and forth by the plot, the travel demands and unseen writer-director.
The characters connect in ways more Western than Eastern (Indian thrillers and romances are still fairly chaste), but the action is pretty lukewarm by conventional thriller standards.
“The Wedding Guest” is no “Bourne” or “Run Lola Run,” or “The Getaway.” It’s just an ambling “antic” dash through the New India, forced to deal with Indian train and bus timetables (many rental car counter scenes) and the region’s sea of humanity, “where anyone (who looks Indian or Pakistani) could get lost.”
And if that’s the case, what’s the hurry?
MPAA Rating:R for language, some violence and brief nudity
Cast: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:37