The only thing that makes much sense about Rohit Dhawan’s “Dishoom” is its title: the classic Bollywood onomatopoeia employed as the sound effect when an actor throws a punch, or a term used colloquially (“dishoom-dishoom”) to describe an action movie. But the use of this word to encapsulate the film is a questionable decision — sure, blows are delivered, cars get chased by helicopters, and boats explode, but “Dishoom” sputters soon after it starts by way of a promising plot that veers maddeningly off-course.
The premise is slightly improbable, but not without a fair share of intrigue. On the eve of a major cricket match with Pakistan in the UAE, India’s star batsman Viraj Sharma (Saqib Saleem) is kidnapped. Brought in to spearhead the search, the no-nonsense Indian Special Task officer Kabir (John Abraham, expressionless as usual) has supposedly incomparable skills, including sniffing out his girlfriend’s secret lover, pointing a gun at anyone who doesn’t meet his every demand, and smoking in inappropriate places.
He is joined by Junaid (Varun Dhawan), a somewhat bumbling rookie who is as bubbly as Kabir is brooding, but leaves much to be desired in terms of his investigative expertise. The partnership has a rocky start, but before long, they’re stripping down to matching neon orange briefs that reveal mirror-image sets of abs, addressing each other as K and J (the “Men in Black” reference will go unnoticed by few), and the buddy cop formula is complete.
It could have been honed even further, were it not for director Dhawan’s determination to speed through every aspect of the film, from his rolodex of Bollywood personalities making rapid, unmemorable cameos to the succession of stereotypical Middle Eastern backdrops for Kabir and Junaid’s increasingly implausible capers. There’s hardly a dull moment—the endless stream of antics is tempered only by regular slow motion captures of our two brawny heroes striding into town bazaars and pool parties. However, traction is lost quickly thanks to writing that doesn’t do its part to hold up the story’s already-rickety structure.
Somewhere along the way, the male duo is joined by Ishika (Jacqueline Fernandez), a leggy thief who becomes their third wheel for no apparent reason other than to crush on Kabir and frolic in an item song amidst all that testosterone-fueled energy. The second half completely falls apart, with Kabir and Junaid swerving into motorcycle races against an ancillary villain on dusty mountain roads before remembering that they’re supposed to be tracking down a missing cricketer and his captor. By the time the real baddie — Akshaye Khanna, exceedingly talented but misguided in his choice of this comeback role after a three-year hiatus from the movies — gets his share of screen time, the chances of tightening up this lazily threaded chain of events seem unlikely.
In a film that relies on the tried-and-tested tropes of this genre, where it’s all but obvious how the story will end, the key lies in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats regardless—or, on the floor with laughter. “Dishoom” undoubtedly boasts an impressive stunt here and there, and shines with sporadic moments of humor, but doesn’t fully deliver in either department. The odd patriotic element, scattered into various intervals as both the cops and the kidnapped pledge their allegiance to India, only further complicates a confused movie. The film’s real lifeline is Varun Dhawan, the seven-film-old actor striking the perfect balance between zaniness and innocence as the trainee cop desperate to please, and confirming that there’s more to his screen presence than his impressive pecs.
But when he’s the only cast member attempting to scratch below the film’s sleek surface, there’s little hope that “Dishoom” will have a lasting impact. Instead, it amounts to little more than frothy summertime entertainment—occasionally fun, but almost immediately forgettable.
“Dishoom” is now in theaters.