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Review: Tezz and Avengers Assemble

More nuttiness and less bluster, pleads Ryan Gilbey.

Tezz (12A), Avengers Assemble (12A)

dir: Priyadarshan, dir: Joss Whedon

Bollywood purloins Hollywood’s ideas almost as regularly as Hollywood pinches from the rest of the world. So it is fitting that a cop in the Indian thriller Tezz should complain that the terrorist he is hunting, who has just given him a Dirty Harry-style runaround, has been watching too much English-language cinema.

The inspiration for Tezz is Speed, the 1994 action movie about a madman who saddles a Los Angeles bus with a bomb primed to detonate if the vehicle drops below 50mph. Speed had wry humour (who knew that LA had buses?) and devilish excitement (how do you keep moving in a city of traffic?) built into its bodywork. Tezz is too close to the original in some ways and not close enough in others. It illustrates the pitfalls of adapting an idea without first understanding what made it special. But it also proves that ­Indian movies that stick fast to the US model offer slim pickings to the Bollywood faithful.

Recasting the bomber as a misunderstood romantic is not necessarily a terrible idea. Shifting the action to the London-to-Glasgow Virgin Express probably is. In contrast to a bus, an express train faces little impediment and therefore generates only negligible suspense. Then there’s the Virgin factor. Will engineering works divert the train via Llandudno Junction? Will it be cancelled altogether?

Even if it gets away on time, the vanity of product placement will always preclude any serious damage. Virgin would hardly have ­supplied one of its locomotives if there was a risk it would end the film as shrapnel. The ­nearest we get to credible hazard is when the train jumps points without decelerating, causing a refreshments trolley to roll against a passenger’s arm. We’re talking superficial bruising here, as well as the likely shattering of some ­seriously marked-up Twixes.

It’s all the doing of Aakash (Ajay Devgan). Having been deported and forcibly estranged from the wife with whom he whiled away happy afternoons wearing cardigans in front of English tourist attractions, Aakash is back to seek his revenge on the UK. Determined to stop his bomb plot is the anti-terrorism honcho Arjun (Anil Kapoor), whose chief qualification for the job is an ability to whip off his sunglasses during moments of high drama.

These are as thin on the ground as edible railway catering. The upside of hiring stunt co-­ordinators fresh from recent Bond and Bourne films is that the action has more gusto than the usual Bollywood equivalent; the downside is that those same sequences could have come from any old blockbuster. Tezz doesn’t equal the thrill of Speed; I’m a firm believer that a movie about a bomb on a train shouldn’t climax with two men throwing office furniture at one another. Nor does it retain the demented grandeur of Bollywood – with one exception: the dance number that interrupts a rooftop pursuit and features a troupe of hoofing vampires who turn into toreadors. Don’t ask me what it’s doing in the film, but it takes the zeds out of Tezz for five minutes.

Similarly, a little more madness and a shade less bluster wouldn’t have gone amiss in Aven­gers Assemble. This Marvel comics extravaganza is a superhero selection box. Nutty delights include Mark Ruffalo, the third actor to play Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk) in the past decade and the first to bring an amused, dishevelled weariness to the character; Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, essentially Rita Hayworth with martial-arts chops; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who enters our world through a gaping portal – why does no one close intergalactic portals behind them? – and proceeds to attempt universal domination using only a radioactive sceptre and an RP accent.

Avengers Assemble belongs, unsurprisingly, to Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, the super­annuated tin can in the welder’s mask and retro rocket-booster boots. His wayward line readings provide more pleasure than the set pieces, which are essentially a string of increasingly tedious wham-bam bouts: Loki v Captain America, Thor v Loki, Iron Man v Thor, and Hulk v everyone.

Downey Jr has not yet flogged to death the droll and distracted routine that has already seen him through two Iron Man movies. He is a vital pick-me-up here when matters get bogged down in pages of exposition and geek-speak. (It’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie. Only the stunt team has more padding.)

If we must have these box-office behemoths, then at least the writer-director, Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is a lively controlling influence – even if trying to inject eccentricity and vision into a film this size is as doomed as attempting to teach table manners to the Hulk.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The Science Issue