The 18th installment of the Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off in record time. As soon as the “Who’s Who” had been ensconced in their seats in the redoubtable auditorium of Palm Springs High School, the talking heads hit the podium, vowing brevity as their goal. Best amongst those was festival director Darryl Macdonald, who, sporting a visual aid worthy of Beat the Clock, got through his acknowledgements in record time—allowing Chairman Emeritus Harold Matzner to open his cheque book to the tune of 40 g’s. More fun but less cash-conscious was the Jeff and Ron show where the duelling politicos (Augua Caliente Tribal Council member, Jeff L. Grubbe and Palm Springs Mayor, Ron Oden respectively) thanked their constituents (Jeff: “It means a lot to the Tribe”)—or scrounged for votes (Ron:—in a slick delivery that would have put Robert Preston out of work a few decades back—“Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!”).
If only director/co-writer John Jeffcoat had heard this intro many months ago.
In his début feature, Jeffcoat falls into the box-office trap of the cheap laugh over drilling down to substance. With so much cash weighing in the balance, it’s easy to see why one of the producers (George Wing) also has a writing credit. But it’s the script that does in this contemporary testament of the evils of “outsourcing” and where, inevitably, (cross-references below) the bottom line wreaks havoc on the “cheap labour” even as management and their unholy alliance with the shareholders laugh all the way to the bank. (Or in the case of Enron, the morgue and jail).
Ontario viewers may do a double-take in the Dalton McGuinty look-alike, Josh Hamilton, who stars as Todd Anderson. Facing looming unemployment (and no chance to redeem his stock options) the reluctant call centre manager finds himself in small-town India where he must remain until his eager, accent-challenged employees can reduce their average call time from over twelve minutes to six. The yuks start right from his airport arrival, walking past his driver (who holds a “Mr. Toad” name card) then avoiding a taxi swarm only to land in a rickety three-wheel conveyance. Next, he’s goaded into train jumping on his venture out to the provinces only to be suckered into paying too much for a drink that will drive him to the john and, once there, wondering just how to, er, take a stand without a Western toilet insight!
Culture and custom gags (the silent patriarch gets a howler when he mimes just why food is not eaten with the left hand, please see bathroom vignette, above) and the difference between rubbers that erase mistakes and those that try to prevent them drew lots of giggles from the sold-out crowd.
The love interest is admirably provided by Ayesha Dharker as Asha—Queen of the customer fulfillment troupe. She morphs easily, and so predictably even as the plot’s payoffs roll back right on schedule, from pain in the ass to clandestine lover (naturally she’s already promised to another in marriage).
Thank goodness for BC Smith’s vibrant and zesty music tracks, which amiably underscore the hijinks on screen.
Fun as it is, the film’s greatest failure is to present a catalogue of stereotypes on both sides of the India/America divide which feeds the farce—complete with an epiphanal baptism on Holi day—but foils any notion of social commentary. JWR