Here’s a sweet, slight little samosa of a Euro-Indian comedy, a tale that’s a little bit topical, a tad picaresque, with just a hint of Bollywood thrown in spice.
“The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir” takes a poor Indian boy from Mumbai to Paris and beyond, hoping against hope that whimsy and a charismatic star will put it over.
They don’t quite manage it, but clocking in at roughly half the length of a Bollywood musical, it makes a nice sampler — Anglicized — of the frothy fare that India’s musical romances offer to the locals.
The singing actor Dhanush plays Ajatashatru Lavash Patel, who shows up one day to pass along a little advice to three street urchins who have just been sentenced to four years in prison.
His story, he says, “is a tragedy,” about how we all come into this world “equal,” and then “the tyranny of chance steps in…no more level playing field.”
He was a doting son whose laundress mother (Amruta Sant) got him to eat, if not stay out of trouble, by promising to take him to Paris with her someday.
But a chance glance at a swami’s “act” — levitating, thanks to a cleverly engineered chair that passed for a cane — led Aja and his cousins to steal the chair and set themselves up as magician, with Aja a poor “fakir” hustling the tourists with fake magic and not-fake-enough poverty.
Aja became a lifelong trickster, with just enough sleight of hand at his command to pocket change from the gullible. His mother dies before they can go to Paris, but after her death he discovers her reason for wanting to make the trip. And that becomes his mission, by hook or by crook.
He tumbles into town, tumbles for the first American tourist (Erin Moriarty of “Miracle Season” and TV’s “The Boys”) who will play act out a “marriage” with him in his favorite furniture store — Bergman Bogärt (think IKEA).
They plan to meet at the Eiffel Tower, but darned if he doesn’t find himself shipped (in a furniture crate) to London in a truck filled with desperate migrants.
Remember Barkhad Abdi from “Captain Phillips?” “I’m the captain, now!” He plays one man anxious to reach “the land of milk and honey.”
They’re busted. “But…but…I’m a TOURIST! I don’t WANT to be in England!”
“Is it the weather?”
A comically cranky customs agent (Ben Miller of the “Johnny English” movies) launches into a little song and dance about shipping them all to an unsuspecting EU country.
“You’ve got to go back to Spain…”These kids love churros! How many times must I explain? You’re all going to Spain!”
And off they go, with Aja finding himself in a Spanish detention facility, caught up in the whirl of a movie star’s (Bérénice Bejo) studio negotiations in Rome, and so on.
It’s a picaresque journey, or would be with a lot more laughs and comic edge.
Dhanush has presence and skills, but his performance only comes to life when he breaks into song and dance at a disco.
His character is somber, delivering lines about fate and chance — “We play with the hand (chance) deals us.” — and karma.
As in he’s got to build his up if he expects that airport detention center door that he checks every night to be unlocked that one time he needs it to be in order to escape.
I kept thinking “Eugenio Derbez would have made this guy funnier.”
Still, there’s a warmth throughout this not-as-extraordinary-as-you’d-hope “Journey of the Fakir” thanks to the impromptu family of refugees he joins, the easy charm of the Not-IKEA furniture store courtship (he literally “steals” a kiss, #IndiaToo).
The French Canadian director Ken Scott gave us “Seducing Doctor Lewis” and “Starbuck,” which was remade as “The Deliveryman.” He keeps this sweet-nothing of a comedy light on its feet, but the script needed doctoring — more jokes, more antic sight gags. Heck, even more production numbers would have helped.
This Fakir’s “Extraordinary Journey” needed many things to live up to its title, especially more “magic” to come off.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language.
Cast: Dhanush, Bérénice Bejo, Erin Moriarty, Barkhad Abdi, Gérard Jugnot
Credits: Directed by Ken Scott, script by Romain Puértolas, Luc Bossi, Jon Goldman and Ken Scott, based on a novel by Romain Puértolas. A Cradle Walk/M! Capital release.
Running time: 1:32