- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

Despite the Indian backdrop and the unusual press that surrounded it (due to star Owen Wilson’s recent suicide attempt), “The Darjeeling Limited” is pretty standard Wes Anderson, both in terms of construction and impact.

It makes use of many of the usual Wes Andersonisms: an estranged family, problematic reconciliation, dry humor and deadpan delivery, tragicomic sensibility, a strong ensemble cast (with lots of faces that will be familiar to the director’s loyal fans), carefully conceived props and sets, and the perspective of white, middle-class protagonists.

“Darjeeling” is certainly not the writer-director’s funniest or most poignant work (that honor would likely go to 1998’s “Rushmore” or 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”), but it is a pleasant 90-minute diversion for admirers of his oeuvre.

Aboard the titular Darjeeling Limited train, running through Rajasthan, India, we meet the three Whitman brothers: Francis (Mr. Wilson), Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody, who proves to be a formidable comedic talent). It’s been a year since they’ve last spoken — since their father’s funeral, to be exact — and Francis has decided that a spiritual journey through India is just what the trio needs to rekindle their relationship and uplift their souls.

Francis wants his kin “to say ‘yes’ to everything” on this trip — “everything” meaning temple visits, peacock feather rituals and maybe even a surprise visit to see their long-lost mom (a brief cameo by Angelica Huston), who ran away from the family to become a nun in the Himalayas.

The problem is that Francis seems to be the only one who’s open to — make that desperate for — spiritual growth, mostly because he’s just had a near-fatal brush with a mountainside. (If you’ve read much about Mr. Wilson’s real-life saga, then you may know the eerie punch line here.)

Jack and Peter, on the other hand, seem more concerned with India’s fine over-the-counter drugs and their own woes (an ex and a baby’s pending arrival, respectively). Bouts with poisonous snakes, a sexy train attendant and her authoritative boyfriend, and a village tragedy may recalibrate their spiritual quotients, however.

The flick gets a bit draggy at times, but Mr. Anderson and crew (including cinematographer Robert Yeoman, production designer Mark Friedberg and costume designer Milena Canonero) always leave us something tasty to train our eyes on, from the hilarious skull-and-crossbones-emblazoned box that snakes come in when purchased at market to the Whitman brothers’ dazzling elephant-covered luggage (designed by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton).

Some of the film’s dramatic moments feel a bit superficial, and given that this is, after all, a comedy, that’s to be expected. Yet, in a society where people can’t bear to turn their cell phones off during yoga class and who purchase spiritual goods like they’re groceries, “Darjeeling’s” story of well-to-do Americans wrestling with fulfillment of a higher order rings incredibly true.

Is modern-day Western life conducive to achieving nirvana? Mr. Anderson might not answer the question, but he gets props for raising it and eliciting a few chuckles in the process.

** 1/2

TITLE: “The Darjeeling Limited”

RATING: R (language and some mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Mr. Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman.

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: www.foxsearchlight.com/darjeeling

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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