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Sunday, July 8, 2012

BALL & CHAIN -- movie review by porfle

How would you like it if, when you reached a certain age, your parents started shopping around for the person you would marry and spend the rest of your life with?  And you'd be introduced to that person for the first time at a dinner attended by both families?  Pretty horrible, huh?

BALL & CHAIN (2004) lets us vicariously experience that horror through the eyes of Bobby (Kal Penn, HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, SUPERMAN RETURNS), a nebbishly-nice Indian guy who is trapped by cultural tradition into just such an arrangement.  The funniest part of the movie, in fact, occurs early on as the reluctant Bobby sits down at the dinner table and scans the faces around him to see what his pending bride will look like.  His eyes light upon a very attractive young woman named Saima (Lisa Ray), and he breathes a long "Hi!" of relief.  But Saima realizes Bobby's mistake and nods to the right, indicating the person sitting next to her.  Bobby follows her nod until his expectant gaze lands upon the most hideous creature this side of a Basil Wolverton portrait from MAD magazine. 

The horse-faced Ruby (Purva Bedi) is gawky, has stringy hair, a big nose, a startling facial mole, and sports some kind of scary dental apparatus that is dripping with cookie crumbs.  Bobby does a take worthy of a Tex Avery cartoon and screams "Aw, HELL NO!" before fleeing the table like a man on fire.  Ruby begins to bray like a lovesick donkey as masticated cookies dribble from her mouth.  Bobby returns for another look -- surely he must've been hallucinating -- but the beast is still there.  "Uh-uh!" he affirms, running off to find a window to jump out of.

The film never gets quite this funny again, although there are several moments that should provoke howls of laughter (such as the subsequent wedding scene) but never quite hit the bullseye.  And the funniest characters, Bobby and Ruby, are shoved to the sidelines as the rest of the movie focuses on Bobby's friend Ameet (Sunil Malhotra), who soon faces his own arranged engagement with the lovely Saima.  We can tell Ameet likes her but chafes at the thought of marriage.  Saima, on the other hand, can't stand Ameet, especially since every time he's around her she ends up drenched with various liquids. 

We know, of course, that they will eventually fall madly in love, but this occurs after Ameet has so successfully turned Saima's parents against him (especially when he tells them he's quitting his job to become a dancer, and proves it by shucking his pants and boogeying around on the dinner table) that they banish him from their daughter's presence forever.  So Ameet must somehow find a way to win Saima back even as her Papa (Asrani, who looks like a cross between Jack Soo and Larry Storch) begins to interview other prospective husbands. 

One of these suitors is the lizardlike, self-adoring ladies' man Ashol (Ismail Bashey), who wins over Papa with his baby-oil charm while showing his true bastardly horndog side to the horrified Saima.  At one point he ogles a large-breasted woman in a restaurant and tells Saima that she must get a boob job, then reveals his violent nature when she refuses.  This moment is played a bit too realistically for a comedy.

As their wedding day grows imminently closer, Saima flees to the arms of Ameet every chance she gets, and they share romantic walks on the beach and cutesy love talk and stuff like that as the movie occasionally veers dangerously close to "chick-flick" territory, leaving us to wonder: "Where are the laughs?  What happened to the funny?" 

Ameet tells Saima of his fantasy in which he arrives at his wedding to the girl of his dreams on an elephant, just like an Indian prince.  Of course, this gives us an idea of how the movie is going to end, with Ameet crashing Saima and Ashol's wedding on an elephant, but the image we conjure in our minds is much funnier than the actual scene, which is played more for it's "aww, isn't that romantic" qualities than for it's humor. 

While at first it looks like the final sequence is going to be a spoof of Dustin Hoffman's mad dash to the church at the end of THE GRADUATE, this doesn't really go anywhere, and the only satisfyingly funny thing about the ending is seeing the comeuppance that Ameet and Bobby have planned for Ashol.

It may sound as though I didn't like BALL & CHAIN very much, but I did enjoy it, although it was hardly the laugh-fest the trailer seemed to promise.  All of the lead characters are appealing, Ashol is a very effective bad guy, and the story sometimes glows with a genuine warmth that most comedies don't strive for.  I especially like the way Bobby and Ruby grow closer as the movie progresses--she gradually turns from an ugly duckling into, uh, a somewhat less ugly duckling--which made me wish we'd gotten to see a lot more of them.  My overall impression of BALL & CHAIN is similar to Kevin Costner's assessment of Bill Pullman in WYATT EARP -- not all that great, but "affable."  If anything, this movie is definitely affable.

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