No one's going to confuse "Marigold," Willard Carroll's raga-flavored romcom, with state-of-the-art Bollywood. There are, to be sure, extravagant dance numbers, over-the-top emotional gestures and a tone that wobbles between cool and camp. But it had to happen -- the hipness and currency of Indian filmmaking would inevitably attract non-Indians: Enter the blond.
Despite the presence of bona fide Bollywood bad boy Salman Khan (of the recent import "Jaan-E-Maan," among many others), it's his co-star who owns the movie: Ali Larter (TV's "Heroes") plays the transplanted Marigold, who has more attitude than résumé ("Have you ever been in a movie without a number after it?" she's asked), and arrives in India only to find that her latest project, "Kama Sutra 3," has gone belly up. Lying about her dance prowess -- she's considered rather choreographically challenged in the realm of rainstorm-besieged dance numbers -- she joins the cast of a local production and injects her own brand of unorthodoxy into a genre as hidebound as the horror film. She also falls in love with Prem (Khan) and he with her, but she soon discovers that the traditions she finds so attractive and exotic carry a price.
It's a mixed bag, this "Marigold," sassily funny when Larter is cracking wise and predictably more stilted when Carroll has his characters revert to standard Bollywood form. It's not a mismatch, by any means -- Marigold, who comes out of the Reformed Brat school of female characters, oxygenates the occasional stuffiness of more stylized Bollywood actors and they in turn keep their American cousin from turning the film into a curried "Clueless." And the music is always staged as part of the movie within the movie -- no one is breaking the fourth wall, which Bollywood films do with abandon, and as a result "Marigold" maintains a more believable temper (to Americans, anyway). If director Carroll had gone one way or the other with more resolve, "Marigold" might have been more than the amusing diversion it is, but anglicizing the world's most popular movie form is a lot to bite off.
As a genre, Bollywood is renowned for featuring some of the more beautiful actresses on earth, so it's a socio-cultural curiosity that "Marigold" has a fair-haired heroine who casts such a potent spell on all those around her. Is it a taste for the strange on the part of the Indian male? Or presumption on the part of the filmmakers? That the very American-looking Larter should become such an exotic creature when taken off her usual turf is something to reflect on.
"Marigold." MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. At Laemmle's Fallbrook, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills (818) 340-8710; and the AMC Covina 30, 1414 N. Azusa, Covina (626) 974-8600.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times