"Taarzan The Wonder Car" offers a unique opportunity on the plot level. A supernatural killer - a car so sleek in design and so flush with powers to seduce audiences that you wonder why it is introduced so late in the narrative!
And when the supernatural automobile - a quaint mix of the benign Volkswagen Herbie in Walt Disney's "The Love Bug" and the killer convertible in John Carpenter's "Christine" - finally shows up, all sleek and span, glistening in the sun like a blue-hued gem in a jewellery store, you wonder what's so wondrous about it, beyond its obvious physical resplendence!
Ironically, the appearance of the car proves to be the beginning of the film's downslide. Once the automobile revs up the narrative, directors Abbas and Mustan set their minds and hearts on telling a ramrod-straight vendetta story.
One by one, in excruciatingly elaborate sequences, the killer goes on the rampage against the villains, finishing them off with ritualistic glee.
The saga of the murderous motorcar becomes progressively dampened until we arrive at the soggy climax where the car walks on water while Ajay Devgan, playing a ghost in a machine-on-wheels, walks into the sunset, leaving us with a flick that means well but fails to translate good intentions into a viable and cohesive entertainer.
Ironically, it is the portions before the magical car arrives that find the co-directors in their element. Thanks to the pincer-sharp editing, the early sequences, showing the little protagonist with his mechanical-engineer dad (Ajay Devgan) growing up to be a bespectacled nerd, convey energy.
But let's be honest... all the sequences featuring the nerdish hero (debutant Vatsal Sheth) and the campus bullies are inspired by Hrithik Roshan in "Koi...Mil Gaya".
The transformation, when it comes, stymies the narrative. The more the magical car races, the more the storytelling stops, creating a strange conflict between speed and substance in the plot.
What makes matters worse is the absence of a substantial storyline. Besides the revenge, there's no other dimension to the plot.
The romance between Raj and the campus bombshell (Ayesha Takiya) is so misguided, you feel the directors are more embarrassed about it than the poor red-faced hero who looks like an acne-stricken school kid rather than a cool dude with the classiest car ever seen in a Hindi film. When he suddenly smooches her, we are more surprised than anything that he or his wonder car does.
Newcomer Vatsal dances very well, specially in the "Ooh la la re" number where he lets himself go as though he suspects there would be no tomorrow for this poorly conceived film. But he shares zero chemistry with his leading lady. Ayesha, for some strange reason, favours stringy outfits even when her lover boy is busy building a car in a greasy garage.
Maybe the girl feels the heat more than others in the film. In what turns out to be the most hilarious product-plug ever inserted into a romance, Ayesha tells Seth to scratch her back for her.
"Ooh, you do it like Itch-guard," she says!
No wonder the romance remains at the scratch level while the revenge, never an integral part of the plot, runs all over the place, in complete opposition to the sleek, controlled movements of the film's hero - the car, not Vatsal.
The car, we might add, is the picture of discretion. Its master and the car manoeuvre through the traffic without the driver's prompting. It kills only the wicked and when a villain uses a child as a shield, the car stops short in its revved-up tracks.
Maybe we should try to put it up as an electoral candidate?
Abbas-Mustan have earlier fashioned some of the most riveting suspense thrillers. This time they seem to skid on slippery grounds. It's one thing to target a film at the young.
But to presume that today's youngsters would giggle at a car chasing villains across suspiciously evacuated highways is taking their participation for granted.
The screenplay is downright amateurish. The dialogues are shockingly staccato. Production values do live up to Abbas-Mustanb's earlier reputation. But that's a small consolation for a film that fails to connect with viewers at even the most basic level.
The supporting cast(Amrish Puri as the golden hearted garage owner, Farida Jalal as the simpering grandma) is so functional it strips the human relationships down to cartoon-strip basics.
A word about the villains. Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Mukesh Tiwari, Shakti Kapoor and Pankaj Dheer have spent their lives playing bad men. The minute they do a business deal with Ajay Devgan, the audiences' moral perceptions are aptly pre-empted.
Surely the stereotypical elements are at odds with a film that breaks the rules by featuring a motorised hero.
This film sure needs serious damage control in key areas. The mileage and pickup are fine. But there's grave engine trouble.