Monday, April 17, 2006

MISTRESS OF SPICES - one for the feng shui idiots

MISTRESS OF SPICES is a truly execrable movie - one of those films that transends mediocrity and becomes physically painful to watch. The guilty party is writer and first-time director Paul Mayeda Berges - husband of cross-over queen Gurinder Chadha, which perhaps explains how he got this pile of sentimental goo financed. The movie stars Aishwarya Rai. Now here's the thing. Aish is beautiful and a talented classical Indian dancer. I even believe she is a good actress when well-directed in Indian art cinema - take RAINCOAT or CHOKHER BALI as evidence for the defence. But Aish is consistently shocking in English-language cinema, perhaps because up until this point we have only seen her in ill-written movies by Chadha (BRIDE & PREJUDICE) and now Berges.

Perhaps the problem is that Berges is trying to create something that is mystical and magical but which simply seems absurd. The idea is that Aishwarya Rai's character is one of many young women around the world who can basically do magic by giving people the right spices. So, if you want to make knew friends, Aish will pop a cinammon stick into your turban and, before you know it, you'll be the Homecoming Queen. Or rather, because MISTRESS OF SPICES has a Serious Message about Race Relations - a member of the Crips. Of course, with infinite power comes the itty-bitty-living-space* and celibacy. And you know what that means - Aish is going to meet a gorgeous hunk and fall in love with him in the first five minutes of the movie and then spend eighty-five minutes wondering whether or not the universe will explode if she has sex with him. Added to this, Berges has written a screenplay that turns its back on conventional dialogue and puts a bunch of ridiculous internal monologue in its place. What this means is you get a lot of stuff like: "Talk to me, chillies!" or "Chillies, don't send him away, he means me no harm." Puh-lease.

MISTRESS OF SPICES showed at Toronto 2005 and is released in the UK on April 21st. It opens in India on April 28th 2006 and in the US on May 5th. *Upon perusing the Disney website for the Aladdin link I was disturbed to find that the 2-disc edition features "A Whole New World" sung by Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. And this was used as a marketing plus-point.