‘Pathaan’ Review: Fighting the Good (and Long) Fight

Filled to the brim with action set pieces, “Pathaan” stars Shah Rukh Khan as a secret agent saving India from havoc unleashed by a vengeful former operative.

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By Nicolas Rapold

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The all-out action movie of the sort honed by Hollywood is not as prevalent in Bollywood. But “Pathaan,” a record-setting addition to a series of spy adventures, rolls out a flaming dessert cart of chugging guns, midair melees and ceaseless showdowns.

Shah Rukh Khan stars as an affable Indian government agent, Pathaan, who’s pursuing a vengeful former agent named — somewhat less than diabolically — Jim (John Abraham). Jim’s been hired by a rogue Pakistani general to sow havoc in India because of a dispute over Kashmir. He turned smirkingly nihilistic after India once refused to pay ransom for him and his (now dead) pregnant wife.

Plotting or politics is an afterthought in this delivery system for action on planes, trains and automobiles, in Dubai, Moscow, Paris, the Spanish coast and apparently the Italian Dolomites. The director, Siddharth Anand (“War”), opens big with Pathaan’s breakout from detainment, swiveling the camera to follow kicks and sending a helicopter aloft indoors.

Other setups have the same top-this sense of fun. Anand’s crew boasts the stunt coordinator of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Casey O’Neill, and the “Mad Max: Fury Road” stunt performer Craig Macrae. But the director doesn’t have the greatest feel for tempo, or a consistent flair for staging. A monotonous fight on a train is only redeemed by a Looney Tunes escape from derailment.

Lending welcome panache is Deepika Padukone as another deadly operative, Rubina, who may prove helpful to Pathaan. The sweet rapport between Padukone and Khan loosens up the film’s endless fracas, and it’s the spark for, yes, a song. When Pathaan spots Rubina poolside in Spain, she launches a joyful crowded bump-and-grind number. (“The moment I feel a wave of modesty, I throw it to the wind!”)

As a villain, Jim’s a bit of a cold bath, and not just because he starts video-calling in threats of biological warfare. “Pathaan” is in some ways a save-the-world superhero movie without suits, and while less self-serious, the hefty length can lag. More is not always better — though the gusto of Padukone speedskating to the rescue at one point goes a long way.

Not rated. In Hindi, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 26 minutes. In theaters.

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