It’s a mess. And Brendan Fraser stars in it. Eventually.
It takes a good, long while for Fraser, of late on the Hollywood “comeback trail” thanks to TV work in “The Affair” and “Trust,” to show up in the feature writing-directing debut of Rohit Karn Batra.
“Line of Descent” is a New Dehli crime family saga where rival siblings debate whether or not to “go legit” and abandon their “land mafia” business, or get into something else illegal. Gun running is an option, and that’s where Fraser’s sociopathic stoner Charu comes in. Eventually. He’s an Alaska native who listens to the sound of a round being chambered and declares, “That is gooooood metal. YEAH it is!”
But we’ve got to wait an hour before he arrives, hearing the patriarch of the Sinha mob family (Prem Chopra) gripe about the “pimps” and “dirty whores” all these “foreigners” who have flooded India are. He is soul-searching for a way to get out of the family business.
“Land mafia” is almost exactly what it sounds like. A developer covets a piece of urban real estate. Thugs, some of them cleaned up and reasonable-sounding, strong-arm the assorted home-owners to sell out…or else!
Old Man Sinha has remorse for this business, and fear that cops are closing in and the whole shooting match is about to fall in on them. “I want to die in peace,” he says, (in Hindi with English subtitles). “I am not s good man!”
He’s got three sons — the tough yet businesslike Prithvi (Ronit Roy), the thuggish and impulsive Siddharth (Neeraj Kabi) and the fey pretty boy son of the old man’s last, much younger wife, stepson Suraj (Ali Haji). Succesion could be tricky.
As indeed it is, when the old man offs himself. A power struggle ensues.
Then there’s the cop (Abhay Deol) who has just moved to town, who is looking at adoption with his wife so that they can ensure their “Line of Descent.”
Random bar attacks, strategic assaults and schemes and counter-schemes to carry out hits, maybe pretending there’s a mob war going on, flesh out the film, and slow it down to a crawl. The brothers plot, form alliances and plot again.
And eventually, the charismatic Westerner/gun runner shows up reveling in “the stench that is our business” (the smell of dirty money) and hijacks the picture, such as it is.
Batra, as a first-time director, has a hard time distinguishing between what stories are important and what to trim. He can’t figure out, at times, that every minute detail of resaurant scenes does NOT need to show us a waiter being scolded to get to an assigned table. Random shots, almost random characters and inane dialogue abound.
Those lines, crafted in an “English was not the first language I learned” goofiness, can prompt head-scratching.
“You must navigate to the genesis that is Barat (the patriarch),” the cop is told. Barat’s the villain who “slowly architected the ‘land mafia.'”
Somebody “stabbed him in the heart with a steak knife!” Wait, there are steak knives in India, now? Stupor mundi.
There is no point in having the adoption counselor intone “Every child deserves a good home,” nor is the police motto completely necessary for us to hear. “Your job is doing your duty. And your duty is doing what is right.”
The sturdy Indian cast do their best with this plodding material. But Fraser, on a busman’s holiday of sorts, is the one who vamps it up and seems to have the most fun with it. He affects a curious accent, brings a lot of energy to his scenes as Charu (Charlie, to Indian ears? Maybe?) seems to be playing one side against the other and is most impressed by the too-young/too-weak youngest brother.
“I am inspired by your bear-like confidence!”
It’s probably not fair, hiring an American, billing him high, and throwing a couple of unknown-in-the-west leads in there for nearly an hour of movie before “The Hollywood Star” shows up. But “Line of Descent” has balance issues, threads that it loses track of (the cop is second billed, I think, and utterly unnecessary).
It’s misshapen and clumsy, start to finish. But at least SOMEbody got to travel a little and wear funny hair-dye, an odd accent and eye makeup in a foreign land.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Rohit Karn Batra. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:44