starring Om Puri, James Fox, Aasif Mandvi, Sanjeev Bhaskar
screenplay by Caryl Phillips, based on the novel by V.S. Naipaul
directed by Ismail Merchant
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover While I haven't read The Mystic Masseur, the V.S. Naipaul novel on which Ismail Merchant's latest directorial effort is based, I think I'm fairly safe in assuming that the movie does little to exalt the oeuvre of its Nobel prize-winning author. Aggressive only in its mediocrity, humorous only in its technical clumsiness, the film manages to belittle the very people it intends to uplift with the patronizing head-patting of country-folk it finds adorable but inconsequential. At times, The Mystic Masseur is like an Ealing comedy stood on its head: instead of showing the resilience of the British through their dogged pursuit of absurdity, it undercuts Trinidadian Indians on much the same grounds--so that when Merchant finally tries to make a post-colonial statement, it cuts across the grain of the rest of his adaptation. In the end, he lavishes far less care on his narrative than Merchant's business partner James Ivory does in his own films, resulting in a tepid soup lacking in flavour and presentation.