Deepa Mehta’s Indo-Canadian gangster flick has lots of style, no substance

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At a time when it's hard to make an original gangster flick -- see last month's Black Mass -- writer/director Deepa Mehta's decision to use Sikh gangs in Vancouver as source material feels inspired. Unfortunately, the contemporary Canadian setting is the only fresh thing about this quasi-comedic crime movie, which otherwise remains a collection of recycled clichés.

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This article was published 16/10/2015 (2494 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At a time when it’s hard to make an original gangster flick — see last month’s Black Mass — writer/director Deepa Mehta’s decision to use Sikh gangs in Vancouver as source material feels inspired. Unfortunately, the contemporary Canadian setting is the only fresh thing about this quasi-comedic crime movie, which otherwise remains a collection of recycled clichés.

Mehta pulls off a few cinematic flourishes — stylish surfaces, some great Bhangra club music, Paul Gross sporting the world’s worst man-bun — but she is fatally unsure of her tone. Torn between condemning the characters’ brutality and extolling their Punjabi cultural pride, her storyline remains confused and tentative.

Jeet Johar (Hindi cinema star Randeep Hooda) is a stone-cold gangster who loves his white-haired mother and does pious charity work. (See, he’s complex!) Like almost all post-Quentin Tarantino crime lords, he’s got a quirk: he’s just crazy for David Suzuki documentaries. In fact, his love for the well-known Canadian environmentalist causes a jailhouse fight.

Mongrel Media Beeba Boys.

Jeet and his crew of Beeba Boys (“good boys”) dress in sharp-cut, rainbow-coloured suits while engaging in drug dealing, gun running and a spot of murder. Their main rival is old-school Indo-Canadian mob boss Robbie Grewel (Gulshan Grover). Newcomer Nep (Ali Momen) ends up smack in the middle of a turf war, attempting to prove himself to Jeet while maintaining his connection to Grewel’s daughter Choti (Gia Sandhu).

The gang’s bespoke suits are something to see, but even cast member Waris Ahluwalia (a Wes Anderson regular who’s pretty damn hip) can’t extend the coolness beyond the tailoring.

Mehta generates some interest by juxtaposing dark crimes against the bland daytime landscape of the Vancouver suburbs, or by setting a high-level criminal deal, complete with guns and big bowls of cocaine, in Jeet’s mom’s basement.

Mongrel Media Paul Gross, right, in Beeba Boys.

Mostly, the shifts from broad Bollywood romp to gritty gangster fare feel bumpy and forced. Mehta, a veteran Indo-Canadian filmmaker best known for her Elements trilogy (Fire, Earth and Water), has worked mostly in important, earnest, message-heavy dramas. Here she’s trying to handle violence and humour, and she isn’t a natural at either. She certainly can’t handle the tricky, Tarantino-ish point at which they overlap.

There’s plenty of swaggering, sub-Pulp Fiction dialogue, but the leads never manage to project believable menace.

The texture of the Beeba Boys’ criminal underworld is flimsy and unconvincing, and key scenes misfire with almost palpable embarrassment.

Despite Mehta’s attempt to update the old gangster genre with a brand-new cultural context, Beeba Boys is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

 

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

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