For the miniseries "Bollywood Hero," which begins tonight on IFC, former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Chris Kattan went to India to make a film about former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Chris Kattan going to India to make a film. In spite of its meta-fictional aspects, it does not comment on or play with screen conventions, Hollywood or Indian (apart from its being, like a Bollywood film, around three hours long and dotted with dance numbers). It is merely conventional.
Kattan, who clearly does not mind a joke at his own expense, plays himself as a C-list actor who dreams of being Harrison Ford, even as his contemptuous agent (Toby Huss) has booked him a role as "the second male alien lead on a budding cable network TV show." At his lowest moment, he meets Monty (Ali Fazal), who has come to Hollywood to find an American star for a film whose title translates as "Peculiar Dancing Boy," described over and over as "a serious critique of imperialism and the caste system told through the medium of dance." Given how little you ever see of it, however, it might be anything at all.
Having found no one bigger or better, Monty signs Chris for the lead and hauls him off to Mumbai, angering his sister, Priya (Pooja Kumar), the film's producer and Kattan's obvious eventual love interest. (Such spite can only resolve into love.) Says sister to brother, "What part of 'handsome romantic lead' did you not understand?"
" 'Corky Romano' did big businesses overseas," Monty responds defensively, naming the 2001 comedy in which Kattan plays the veterinarian son of a mob boss father.
This is yet another variation on the Unlikely Hero story -- Danny Kaye, Don Knotts and Woody Allen have all played that guy -- and it is also the story of the boy who, sent to sell the cow, comes back with beans, or as Yiddish more pointedly has it, bupkes. But they are, of course, magic bupkes.
"Bollywood Hero" does Kattan no favors. Even if we don't accept him as Harrison Ford -- and we're not supposed to -- we have to take him as Michael J. Fox, the leading man in a fish-out-of-water romantic comedy. But that is not who he is. On the one hand, the script acknowledges his actual limitations as an actor -- and as a dancer -- while on the other it insists, though does not convincingly demonstrate, that he is hilarious and lovable.
Playing straight, Kattan can come across as sullen and constricted, but his strong suit is silliness, and his best scene here finds him goofing around with kids in an orphanage. His face unlocks; he relaxes into a person.
There is lively support from Fazal and Kumar, along with Neha Dhupia as a Bollywood star and Rachna Shah as an actress who fled films for an ashram. The Hollywood scenes include amusing cameos from Keanu Reeves, Maya Rudolph and Kattan's father, Kip King. Julian Sands hams it up as Bollywood's resident Englishman.
Notwithstanding the unusual setting -- the touristic elements of the film are its most reliably satisfying -- "Bollywood Hero" is largely predictable, and when it isn't predictable, it's only because the characters act nonsensically. (Although that, in a way, is predictable as well.) The story never moves under its own steam; rather, it is prodded toward a foregone, foreseeable and not especially original conclusion, followed, finally, by a big production number (choreographed by Longinus Fernandes, of "Jai Ho" fame) that achieves all the energy and magic missing from most of what's gone before.
When: 7 tonight
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)