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


The Tiger Hunter

It's always interesting when someone known for supporting work gets the chance to become a lead, especially in a movie. So much rests on the performer's ability to carry a feature-length story. Nailing it can result in bigger, better opportunities going forward. Failure can harm a career irreparably. Danny Pudi, best known for his hilarious portrayal of Abed on Community, gets his crack at being a leading man with the cultural rom-com The Tiger Hunter. He succeeds in this sweet, charming little picture.

In the story, which is set during the 1970s, Pudi plays Sami Malik, a young Indian man who has spent his entire life trying to live up to the reputation of his father, a noted slayer of tigers. To this end, he journeys to America in order to become a successful engineer. This will allow him to marry his sweetheart, Ruby (Karen David), whose stern father won't let her wed anyone who doesn't meet his high standards.

Once in the States, Sami can only get a low-level job as a draughtsman at a company that is trying to make the first functional microwave oven. He befriends the boss's slacker son, Alex (Jon Heder), and falls in with a group of other immigrants who are enduring the same kind of struggle as he is. Sami quickly realizes the only way to rise within the company is to independently figure out how to prevent the microwave prototype from exploding.

The Tiger Hunter is, in many ways, a formulaic comedy. Trying to impress a potential mate, hoping to please a strict father, thinking of a way to outsmart the snooty higher-ups at a company these are all things that have been done many times before onscreen. Even if it's not entirely original, the movie finds fresh ways to handle routine elements. You probably won't be surprised to learn that a desperate Sami tries to pass off Alex's parents' house as his own when Ruby comes to visit, yet the way The Tiger Hunter resolves that scenario is refreshingly honest, and true to who Sami is. In other words, it gets the comic mileage out of the situation without becoming so manipulative as to insult our intelligence.

Pudi is winning in the lead role, investing Sami with a sincere, earnest quality that makes us really root for him to triumph. The actor aces the comedic moments, while also showing unexpected skill in the more dramatic ones. He makes the character feel like a real person you'd want to spend time with. Heder and David do strong work too, as does the scene-stealing Rizwan Manji as Babu, Sami's ever-encouraging friend.

Director Lena Khan keeps the pace brisk, ensuring that we get swept up in the plot. There are plenty of laughs in The Tiger Hunter. Underneath, though, is a poignant examination of what it means to live in someone else's shadow. The end zone here isn't whether or not Sami gets to marry Ruby; it's whether he learns to appreciate himself independent of his father. In Danny Pudi's capable hands, watching him make that personal journey is a delight.

( out of four)

The Tiger Hunter is unrated, but contains mild language and a few slightly off-color references. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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