With the release of 'Race' in 2008, Hindi cinema's action-thriller called for a major breakthrough in look, feel and content. The first film of this franchise was a brilliantly narrated, lavishly mounted entertainer. The movie had lavishly presented music, and a cast that justified the characters they played. When the sequel to the film was announced, this writer couldn't be more accepting of the film to roll on floors and eventually find a release date. In the middle of the two movies released Abbas-Mastan's biggest debacle – 'Players' – which did almost everything right, but lacked impact value. Naturally hence, the expectations for 'Race 2' got more mixed than ever. It is also an almost tried-and-tested adage that sequels worldwide are almost never as good as the original. What is, however, expected of the film, is pure adrenaline entertainment.
An action thriller mounted on a big scale requires non-stop action, realistic visual effects and a dramatically towering climax that leaves the audience satisfied. When all of the three rules are fulfilled, any ignorance of a plot can be forgiven. If the makers, however, feel the need to include some drama, then a plot is required. Writer Shiraz Ahmed ('Race', 'Prince') does exactly the same for the first hour, re-introducing you to the winner of the last, Ranvir Singh (Saif Ali Khan), and his slow and steady attempts at avenging the death of the love of his life, Soniya Martin (Bipasha Basu reprising her role in a brief cameo). In this journey, he comes across some old acquaintances (Anil Kapoor reprising his role as the now ex-police detective Robert D'Costa) and finds his way towards new ones (John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Jacqueline Fernandes). The first half has a good character buildup, with each character arc being clearly defined. The double-crossing aspect is also brilliantly showcased, with twist upon twist leaving you guessing. The post-interval portions convert the reigning theme of one-upmanship to a heist film, which wasn't the core thread of the franchise anyway. Dialogues by Kiran Kotrial ('Fida') are strong at some places, and corny at some. Most of the well-built character arcs in the first half get reasonably messed up due to the story going nowhere. The climactic portions of the film are a major letdown, and the character arc of Anil Kapoor's only achievement in this film would be to successfully get intimate with a woman, which was simply unnecessary.
Technically, the film is pretty good, with quite a few goofs that pull the look and feel of the film down at many places. Cinematography by Ravi Yadav ('Aitraaz', 'Race') captures locales and quite a few action sequences brilliantly, however, despite having the assistance of a focus puller, the camera operator seems to have left quite a few close-up shots and mid-level shots on soft focus, or annoyingly out of focus. Editing by Hussain Burmawala is pretty basic, however, the edges between shots are tightened around the action sequences to give them a breathless feel. A few being recorded on high-speed give some action scenes impact-worthy slo-mo shots. Visual effects by Prime Focus are horrible. It's hard to believe that the very same brand that has composited splendid visual effects for Hollywood blockbuster 'Avatar' and the Shah Rukh Khan sci-fi flick 'Ra.One' has grossly disappointed this time. Music by Pritam is fun and frothy, but doesn't live up to the lavishness of the soundtrack supporting the 2008 flick. 'Be-Intehaan' and 'Party on my Mind' are well shot, but even though 'Lat Lag Gayee' and 'Allah Duhayi Hai' have good potential, we know that the songs are blatant replacements (the former being one for 'Zara Zara Touch Me'), and the impact hence vanishes with this realization. In fact, 'Allah Duhayi Hai' arrives at such a wrong time; the already dwindling second hour hits a roadblock with this absolutely unnecessary addition. And with the whole cast arriving in the song showing off their moves, gratuitously rubbing it in the viewers' faces, it just gets plain annoying. What sets the movie up, particularly in the interestingly choreographed (Peter Hein; 'Ghajini', 'Agent Vinod') action scenes, is the fantastic background score by duo Salim-Sulaiman ('Aazaan', 'Band Baaja Baaraat'), which does wonders to some otherwise ordinary scenes as well.
Performance wise, Saif Ali Khan is a fun watch, especially with this role being a cakewalk for him. John Abraham does really well, especially in action sequences. It's great to see him in a darker role after a long time. Deepika Padukone is really good. She is, however, supported by a character with an increasingly confusing goal by the end. Jacqueline Fernandes has a similarly well-built character through the first half, which goes off well, but with her repetitive dialogues with John Abraham in the second half, her character gets wasted as well. As for Anil Kapoor and Amisha Patel, the lesser said about them, the better. Aditya Pancholi in his short role is even more fun to watch in the second half than the escapades of all the leading characters combined. Rajesh Khattar is good while his character lasts. Bipasha Basu is fine, however, her character from the first film is sorely missed. Others are good.
Overall, 'Race 2' has an excellent start and a gripping first half. What, however ruins the film is a confused second half, horrible visual effects and a poor letdown of a climax that's almost a blatant opening to 'Race 3'. While in the first, Sunidhi Chauhan sensuously crooned, 'Race is on my Mind', here, because the makers decide to forget the 'Race' aspect, Shefali Alvaris has nothing to say but 'Party on my Mind'. Party they do, but at the cost of the viewer. Whether the makers get to party all the way to the bank will be a story this writer will be more interested in.
A strictly skeptical one-time watch on DVD.
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