- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

''East Is East" never lacks for gusto and appears to derive from an authentic core of family conflict and sentiment. Nevertheless, writer Ayub Khan-Din and director Damien O'Donnell seem to have a specialized segment of the audience in mind: incorrigible vulgarians.

A chronicle of mixed-ethnic domesticity that might prove both revealing and satisfying in steady hands comes out in ragged and needy condition after being subjected to a facetious shakedown.

The fictional Khans, observed in Manchester, England, in 1971, evidently were inspired by the writer's own family. The patriarch, George Khan, played by Om Puri, is a Pakistani who immigrated to England in the late 1930s, progressing from day laborer to shopkeeper.

He married an Englishwoman, Ella (Linda Bassett), and fathered a brood of seven, six of them sons. From the outset, father looks oblivious and ineffectual.

The movie begins with a complicated sight gag in which Ella and several of the offspring conceal their participation in a Roman Catholic parade from George. Mrs. Kahn is even more of a presence in the workplace, since she and the most able-bodied kids help sustain the family business, a fish-and-chips shop.

Although George has no intention of returning to his homeland, he cherishes certain Muslim traditions and assumes, incorrectly, that his sons will consent to arranged marriages within the Pakistani immigrant community.

The first match of this sort blows up in his face: His eldest son, Nazir (Ian Aspinsall), deserts his own wedding ceremony, leaving the chosen bride at the altar.

When Nazir relocates in a nearby city and Ella and the other children make contact with him, homosexuality appears to be one of the inhibiting factors that drove him away. It's a bit refreshing to see Nazir's tendency suggested rather than emphasized or patronized.

Between abortive efforts as a matchmaker, George more or less vegetates in ignorance of how far assimilation has influenced his children, most of them contentedly steeped in the popular culture that surrounds them.

The only girl, Meenah (Archie Panjabi), is a wisecracking soccer tomboy. The straight brothers Tariq (Jimi Mistry) and Saleem (Chris Bisson) have no trouble attracting girlfriends of their own at school or neighborhood dance clubs.

Father's absentmindedness seems to have caught up with the youngest, 12-year-old Sahid (Jordan Routledge), belatedly subjected to the rigors of a circumcision, a raucous source of slapstick for about half the movie.

George also seems a bit late to install indoor plumbing, which permits recurrent interludes of nocturnal slapstick as family members try to reach bedroom buckets in the nick of time.

George degenerates into a pathetic hulk, especially after whipping himself into frenzies of domestic abuse that the filmmakers cannot modulate effectively. They overdo the spectacle of him overdoing it when his authority finally is exposed as fragile at best.

The movie expires needing an adequate reconciliation scene between George and Ella Khan. He tries to make amends after disgracing himself and turns up at the shop with a trademark request for "half a cup of tea." Under the circumstances, he looks overdue for a whole cup, if only to keep him from flying off the handle.

"East Is East" probably doesn't want to provoke alienation from any of the Khans, but it ends up leaving George in sorry shape. The most appropriate title might be "Father Was a Goon."

TITLE: "East Is East"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, sexual candor and vulgarity, slapstick vulgarity and interludes of graphic domestic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Damien O'Donnell

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

TWO OUT OF FOUR STARS

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