Judge Kristin Munson should have left this title sitting under the bodhi tree.
You will never hear "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" again without wincing.
What The Buddha of Suburbia promises is a cross between White Teeth and Velvet Goldmine, with culture clashes, '70s confusion, and alternative sexualities. What it delivers is an aimless trudge through a landscape of hippies, punks, swingers, and full frontal nudity.
Facts of the Case
Karim (Naveen Andrews, Lost) is half white, half Indian, and completely confused. His father has become the neighborhood guru, despite being Muslim, his uncle is on hunger strike until his radical daughter agrees to an arranged marriage, and his crush on a bad boy schoolmate doesn't stop him from sleeping with his cousin or anyone else. Quite a swinging time, the 1970s.
There's a moment in the first part of Buddha of Suburbia, where Karim is in bed with a Bowie look-alike, when it seems like the miniseries is going to be a Lost fanfic come true. It's also the first and, sadly, one of the last times our protagonist does anything that feels remotely human.
Most of the time, Karim is a cipher, wandering from one scene to the next just to introduce the next in a bizarre parade of stereotypes. Neurotic actress, pansexual rock star, culture-shocked parent, shrill housewife: all the most obnoxious sitcom characters are here, and Karim is so underdeveloped he might as well be part of the tacky '70s decor. Naveen Andrews can't compete with the level of insanity going on, and it doesn't seem like he's even trying. He goes through every scenario with the same blank expression, his voice never rising above a murmur.
The '70s were a disjointed era—with everyone trying on new religions, new identities, and new philosophies—but that doesn't mean the movie has to be. Karim is the only thing each plot has in common; the storylines are so separated that characters from the same family never meet. Story developments come out of left field because characters are forgotten until their plotline comes around again, and writers like to bring up issues of race and sexuality and then play most of them for comedy. A father raging about his son's homosexuality forgets the whole incident when he starts to vomit, and a racist attack on Karim turns juvenile when he's humped by a dog. However, nothing tops Karim's encounter with some swingers, who tag team him to tune of Ian Drury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" while his girlfriend watches.
The miniseries is supposed to take place from 1974 to 1979 but, except for the onset of punk and a character's pregnancy, there's no other way to judge what year it is and how long has passed from one scene to the next. It's the commentary track that fills in this and all the other important details that should have been in the original.
Besides the commentary that the writer and director approach with all the vocal enthusiasm of late-night jazz DJs, extras include a muddy music video of the David Bowie theme tune. The full frame picture is soft but nowhere near as disastrous as the stereo. Even with the TV and the surround system cranked to 11, I still needed the subtitles on to figure out what anyone was saying. The only time the speakers spit out any real noise was during the sex scenes, which resulted in some pretty spectacular dives for the remote control, I can tell you.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Harish Patel is the only actor to put anything into his role besides what's on the page, taking his character leaps and bounds beyond a pathetic, sex-obsessed punch line. He's the only part with any dimension and the one saving grace of the mini-series.
Karim never thinks about his race or identity or anything besides where his next shag is coming from, so he remains static and uninteresting while everyone around him changes and matures. Maybe that's the point, but it makes for a pretty uninvolving mini-series. The only people who should pick this up are the ones who want to see a naked Naveen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• David Bowie "Buddha of Suburbia" Music Video
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