No surprise that Englishman Danny Doyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is winning wide audiences and prizes—it’s a huge international billboard advertising the virtues of feelgoodism at a time when the global economy is collapsing from the overdose of deregulation, corruption and greed. Slobbering blurbs from the mindless aside, it is a tonic—even Chicago critic Don Selle calls the stimulant “a pop art Citizen Kane.” While I wouldn’t go quite that far, the movie, using the Kane device of flashbacks to divulge details, seems much more a suspicious amalgam of Hector Babenco’s Pixote, Dominique Lapierre’s The City of Joy and Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (the scandal of “The 64,000 Question”), padded with a benign steal from a Charles Dickens’ grim atmospheric pick-a-pocket-or-two drama and spiced up with obligatory Bollywood flavor. Slumdog’s major contrivance—using an Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” to reveal contestant Jamal’s background and ability to answer the big rupee questions—is both clever and limiting. The latter is the movie’s weakness, understandable because of time constraints: when Doyle flashes back to the Mumbai slums and develops the friendship as well as survivorship of his Three Musketeers Jamal, Litika and Salim, we’re so immediately captivated by the first set of children lyrically playing the trio and are so absorbed by the speeding rush of the imagery of indigence that we don’t care if we ever get back to the TV studio and that sleazy game-show host. We don’t feel too shortchanged when we do but we really want more of the kids. Expected yet trite and arguably unnecessary are the violence and perps, including a hint of pedophilia and Salim’s bathed-in-Gandhi-bills finale, all edited for blessed brevity. (At least the perps aren’t ridiculously ruinous as they are in the film of The City of Joy.) London-born Dev Patel’s unclouded eyes and crooked white teeth provide his Jamal a Michael Phelps-like goofus camouflage which frustrates his adversaries; the adult Litika played by Freida Pinto is as stunningly beautiful at first sight as Daliah Lavi was in Lord Jim. When the end credits roll as Jamal and Litika shake their booties, some of us can’t help wanting to sing along, “He’s in the money...Oh, honey, you’re in the money.”  

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2008 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.