Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ken Scott

Stars: Dhanush, Erin Moriarty, Berenice Benjo, Gerard Jugnot, Ben Miller, Barkhad Abdi.

Planes, trucks and wardrobes?

Dhanush and Erin Moriarty in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir (2018)

This French/Indian/Belgian and US coproduction is a feel-good comedy/drama that is part Bollywood musical, part French romantic comedy, part road movie, part underdog story, and part rags to riches fantasy. The story of an innocent abroad it will remind audiences a little of the Oscar wining Forrest Gump, while its rags to riches story of an urchin from the streets of Mumbai will recall the likes of Slumdog Millionaire.

Popular Indian actor Dhanush (3, etc) plays Aja Patel, a conman and amateur magician raised in the slums of Mumbai by his single mother (Anuta Sana), whom he worships. He ekes out a living by conning tourists on the crowded streets of Mumbai, convincing them that he has supernatural powers. But when his mother dies, Aja sets off on a journey to discover the identity of the father he never knew. His journey takes him to Paris where he hopes to reunite with his father atop the Eiffel Tower. Obsessed with IKEA since he first stumbled upon a glossy catalogue as a kid, he first visits an IKEA store, where he meets the beautiful Marie (Erin Moriarty, from Blood Father, etc), and flirts with her. She is on the rebound and falls for his easy charms. Aja arranges to meet her for dinner the next night. But then fate steps in and his journey begins to go awry.

With no money for a hotel he takes up temporary residence for the night inside the IKEA store. Aja falls asleep inside a wardrobe at the store, and wakes up to find that he has been shipped to London overnight alongside a shipment of illegal Sudanese refugees. There he experiences the hardships and plight of the unwanted refugees who are shipped off to Spain by a customs inspector (gloriously overplayed by Ben Miller, recently seen as Rowan Atkinson’s offsider in Johnny English Strikes Back).

Thus, begins an extraordinary journey of self-discovery that takes the wide-eyed and naïve Aja through Europe to Libya where he meets a variety of colourful characters. All he wants to do though is get back to Paris to meet up with Marie. Along the way he crosses paths with some bandits, and there is a suitcase full of money and a desperate chase through some exotic locations. The busy script also pays lip service to the immigrant crisis facing Europe and the cultural differences and serves up a plea for tolerance, compassion and understanding.

The film has been nicely shot in some exotic locations by cinematographer Vincent Mathias (See You Up There, etc) and at times it looks like a travelogue. The film is punctuated with a couple of extravagantly staged Bollywood musical numbers and lots of gorgeous scenery. There is even a wonderful animated map that traces Aja’s journey across the continent.

The film is an uneven and episodic adaptation of Romain Puertolas’ 2014 bestselling novel with the unwieldy and unimpressive title The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe, which has been published in 35 languages. The script has been co-written by Puertolas and Luc Bossi (Mood Indigo, etc) and Canadian director Ken Scott (the Vince Vaughn sperm donor comedy Delivery Man, etc), but it offers an uneven mix of farce, magical realism, fate, romance and adventure. Scott manages to work in some great visual humour, and the narrative unfolds with pace and energy. However, the framing device of having Aja relate his fanciful tale to a trio of wide-eyed slum kids in a local police station is a bit of a clumsy cliché and takes us away from the action and proves more of a distraction.

The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir is the first international production for Dhanush, one of India’s most popular contemporary film stars. He is certainly a charismatic leading man, full of charm and an irrepressible energy, and he brings an appealing innocence to this performance. The international supporting casts includes Berenice Bejo (from the Oscar winning The Artist, etc), Somalian actor Barkhad Abdi (from Captain Phillips, etc) and Gerard Jugnot (The Chorus, etc) as a garrulous taxi driver.

This light hearted road movie romcom is hardly essential viewing nor is it a particularly extraordinary journey, but it makes for a mildly diverting time at the cinema. And with a brisk running time of just on 90 minutes it never quite outstays its welcome.


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