The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Basmati Blues

It's hard to believe that Basmati Blues sat on a shelf for four years. Surely there's an audience for an ethnic romantic-comedy/musical about a scientist trying to create a better kind of rice. Oh, there's not, you say? What if I told you it stars Oscar winner Brie Larson, who presumably isn't happy this turkey is seeing the light of day? If we're being honest, Basmati Blues is being released only to capitalize on her stardom in the wake of Room. Curious viewers will likely find themselves frustrated to see a good actress in a movie so painfully incompetent.

Larson plays Dr. Linda Watt, a research scientist at the not-so-subtly named Mogil Corporation. She and her father (Scott Bakula) have developed genetically modified rice that could maximize harvests in economically-disadvantaged parts of the world. Her boss, Gurgon (Donald Sutherland), convinces her to go to India to sell the local farmers on the idea of using this rice, not knowing that he's secretly attempting to enact a dubious, exploitative business plan.

Immediately after arriving, Linda meets Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a young man forced to drop out of college because he couldn't afford to attend anymore. He's got his own plan for improving rice crops and views Linda's arrival with skepticism. The two engage in cliched bickering that makes it clear they're actually very attracted to one another. Through a series of hastily-presented plot points, the likes of which are surprisingly difficult to follow, they figure out Gurgon's plan and join forces to foil it. And, of course, they periodically break into song for no apparent reason.

According to IMDb, director Dan Baron has exactly one previous credit to his name: he wrote the 2001 David Arquette comedy See Spot Run – a film you've almost doubtlessly forgotten by now. This is not surprising, because Basmati Blues feels exactly like it's been assembled by someone who has seen a million movies, but has never made one. Filmmaking basics, such as moving coherently from one scene to the next, are ignored, assuring that there is absolutely zero dramatic momentum. When dealing with a subject as bland as rice science, you really need to be on point with the storytelling.

It's baffling why the picture spends so much time on the subject of rice. Does Baron think this is a compelling topic? In spite of an excess of rice-related dialogue, we learn nothing about it. A well-made film can make esoteric subjects interesting, provided there's a strong story surrounding them, or at least an in-depth dive into how the characters are impacted by those things. Basmati Blues offers up a rote romance, combined with a borderline-offensive plot in which a white person “saves” a group of impoverished Indian people.

The musical numbers are just as bad. Aside from the songs being unmemorable, most of them are little more than characters standing (or walking) while they sing. There's no scope, no craft, no energy to them. It can't even be said that they're music video-like, because most music videos look professional. Basmati Blues only has one traditionally “big” production sequence – a duet between Sutherland and Tyne Daly (as Gurgon's right-hand woman) in which they musically extol the virtues of implementing unethical business practices in order to maximize profits. Get ready to hear it sung at every wedding you attend in the near future!

This is not Brie Larson's fault. For emphasis, let me say that again. This is not Brie Larson's fault. The actress gives it her all. She is, however, saddled with material no one in their right mind would care about. (Did I mention this movie is about rice science?) Worse, the relationship between Linda and Rajit is so poorly written that Basmati Blues doesn't even work as a lightweight rom-com. There is no understandable reason for the leads to either love or hate one another, as neither has much in the way of a personality.

With its cultural appropriation, heightened “comedy,” and musical interludes, Basmati Blues clearly wants to be a Western take on a Bollywood movie. In reality, it's a “Bollywoof” movie, which is to say, a Bollywood wannabe that's a real dog.

( out of four)

Basmati Blues is unrated, and contains nothing particularly objectionable. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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