The action-thriller “Saaho” opens “far from India,” a voice intones, in an almost sci-fi city of gleaming, antiseptic skyscrapers. It could be Hudson Yards or Abu Dhabi (where some recognisable exteriors were shot), but it’s a fictional place called Waaji City, ruled by a mob of natty Indian gangsters, eager to restake a claim back home. Cut to Mumbai, where the Waaji City kingpin returns, only to be killed on his first drive through town.
“Saaho,” written and directed by Sujeeth, has a dense and confusing opening hour, with extended digressions and too many characters introduced by metaphorical (and in once case literal) cracks of lightning. This is storytelling that’s at once overblown and undercooked, with so many crosses and double crosses, maskings and unveilings, it’s easy to lose track of what or who’s worth paying attention to.
The glue meant to hold the whole thing together is the star, Prabhas, who plays the hero-turned-villain-turned-hero again. But the actor, who made his mark in Telugu cinema — “Saaho” is being released in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil versions — doesn’t display much range here. Though his character has more than one identity, he’s always the same know-it-all Mr Cool.
The most distinctive thing about Prabhas’ performance is the way he swaggers around with a shoulder dipped down, whether delivering his lines in a half-whisper or knocking around bad guys, who come at him with weapons you might pick up at a medieval garage sale. (The counterweight to shiny Waaji City is not so much Mumbai but a mysterious “Mad Max”-type wasteland populated by muscled thugs with face tattoos.)
Without a meaty star performance, “Saaho” sinks, thrown back on its grab bag of international locations (the Alps! Innsbruck! some Euro place by the sea!) and its endless series of bone-crunching fights (the director is fond of slo-mo fists knocked into jaws that ripple). Vehicles crash and buildings blow up as our hero cuts his unrighteous path of destruction.
The movie is crisply, sometimes stylishly shot (Madhie did the cinematography), but it’s too muddled to be slick and too lacking in charm to establish any emotional stakes. By the time Prabhas straps on a pair of metal wings, whooshing around the glass canyons of Waaji City to save his girlfriend, your credulity may have been strained to the point of flatlining.
Not rated. The film has been released in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil versions, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.