‘Polite Society’: Sci-fi and kung fu stew, sweetened by comedy

Nimra Bucha, left, and Priya Kansara in “Polite Society.”Photo by: Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features
Copyright: Handout

“Polite Society” is a comic book movie, but probably not the kind you think.

Yes, it’s colorful and action-packed, with silly on-screen titles and a plot that is over the top to the point of ludicrousness. It is also funny. (That last part, of course, is a matter of taste. The lowbrow humor is often slapsticky and crass.) But beyond a couple of martial arts moves that defy physics and the presence of a cartoonish villain – in the person of Nimra Bucha’s overbearing British Pakistani future mother-in-law from hell – it bears no similarity to anything ever released by Marvel or DC.

Its heroine, on the other hand, would surely love to work for one of those film companies. She is Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), a London teen from a family of Pakistani immigrants who dreams of becoming a Hollywood stuntwoman like her hero, Eunice Huthart, a real-life stunt performer whose poster hangs in Ria’s bedroom. Ria’s older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), is an art-school dropout who, in the film’s first act, is introduced to Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna), a hyper-eligible doctor, by Salim’s mother Raheela, played by Bucha in a way that gives new meaning to the words “pushy” and “manipulative.”

There’s soon a fat emerald engagement ring sitting on Lena’s finger, much to the dismay of Ria, who believes that Lena has abandoned her own dreams for the ridiculous goal of marriage. In short order, Ria and two school chums (Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri) have set in motion various plots to sabotage the wedding, ranging from verbal persuasion to the planting of used condoms in Salim’s bedroom. (Have I mentioned that the humor is crass?)

Priya Kansara, left, and Ritu Arya in “Polite Society.” MUST CREDIT: Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features. Copyright: Handout

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, creator of “We Are Lady Parts,” “Polite Society” – the title is apparently ironic – doesn’t stop there. Ria eventually uncovers a nefarious plot that beggars even euphemistic description in a spoiler-free universe. Suffice it to say that the film culminates in a wedding ceremony featuring a chloroformed bride and a loopy martial arts battle between Ria and her cohorts and a phalanx of guests/accomplices in brightly hued salwar kameez. (Kudos to costume designer PC Williams.) There is also a Bollywood-style dance number featuring Ria “singing,” her voice obviously dubbed in by someone who, as is customary in such films, sounds nothing like the actress lip-syncing the words. If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated “RRR,” you’ll get the joke.

Manzoor has created a world that feels at once very real – multicultural London, a blend of modernity and tradition – and very, very unreal. The story is a sci-fi and kung fu stew, with a mad-professor plotline that’s more than a little hard to swallow. Fortunately, the candy-colored sweetness of the sauce – a feminist story that is at heart about sibling love – makes all the hoo-hah go down a little easier.

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2.5 stars. PG-13. In area theaters. Contains strong language, violence, sexual material and some partial nudity. 104 minutes.

Rating guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars okay, one star poor, no stars waste of time.



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