What a trip! Race is a sun-drenched Bollywood film noir set in South Africa, where billionaire brothers, two or maybe three femme fatales, a brilliant-fool detective and enough intrigue for a couple of Shakespearean tragedies play out against a backdrop of thoroughbred horseracing, supercharged cars, video voyeurism and, best of all, good old-fashioned practical stunts with barely a whiff of CGI. Anyone bored by the fakey, videogame-looking car crashes and aerial/aquatic sequences of Hollywood action films will be choking on their popcorn as a car and a pipe-laden flatbed truck duel in the sun, climaxing in what looks like a four-and-a-half-turn flip in the air. Hollywood, hell—Hong Kong can cut its wires and learn a thing or two.
The pounding action sequences, particularly on the track and in the winding, hairpin roads in the desert outside Durban, combine with a panoply of panoramas and tricked-out offices and mansions to give a widescreen feast even if the story weren't so damned engaging. As with most Bollywood musicals, you have to accept its tone from the outset—passions run high, heroes declaim dramatically and the business world is set at broil. Race opens awfully, with a leaden, roughly four-minute sequence of a narrator introducing everyone and their backstories, like "Prince Valiant" Sunday-comic tableaux, if Prince Valiant and company were arrogant rich guys in designer suits and dusky über-models who'd make Miss Universe look like Miss Landfill. From there, however, it picks up a pace like Hollywood ADD, and you're in for the ride.
Ranvir Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is a Richard Branson Brahmin who bungee-jumps from hot-air balloons into speeding sports cars headed for a cliff. The head of a horseracing empire, Stallions, Inc., he has both an efficient, miniskirted personal assistant, Sofia (Katrina Kaif), and a fat, comic-relief butler, Sam, engagingly played by what must be the Indian Chris Farley. Ranvir also has a brother—or is he?—named Rajeev (Akshaye Khanna), a hard-drinking playboy. When supermodel Sonia (Bipasha Basu) enters their lives, the patriarchal Ranvir sets her up with his smitten bro. Sonia, however, isn't all that she seems. Neither is Sofia, which probably explains the similarity in their names.
Ranvir's passion for racing extends further than it would for the protagonist of any American movie not directed by Abel Ferrara: When his prime jockey betrays him and loses a race at the behest of smarmy rival Kabir Anuja (Dalip Tahil), Ranvir blithely kills the jockey and ruins the rival. When one of the brothers engages in fratricide, right before intermission, it's no surprise.
Which is fine, because there are about a thousand surprises in this movie. Forget double-crosses: I think we're up to septuple-crosses by the time this is over. This tally includes moves by the brilliant but eccentric private detective Robert "R.D." D'Costa (Anil Kapoor) and his sexy, scatterbrained, hero-worshipping assistant, Mini (Sameera Reddy). Except for one uncomfortable, would-be comedic seduction attempt, the two latecomers engage in Burns & Allen repartee with stopwatch-perfect timing. Or maybe Columbo & Allen—either way, they're loads of fun. Indian comic Johnny Lever has a wonderfully ridiculous, bug-eyed scene as a marriage-bureau guy with a bad marriage.
The nearly half-dozen musical sequences are stylishly shot and Fosse-ly choreographed, a blur of cool blue, welding sparks and thrusting body parts—which pretty much describes this twisty, gorgeously shot and edited house of games with some of the all-out best action scenes you'll ever see.