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Court of Last Resort

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MOVIE REVIEW
Chehre (2021)

Any time a movie character on the road suddenly finds themself stranded on some god-forsaken stretch of earth, in rotten weather and with no cell reception to boot, and then a helpful stranger appears out of nowhere to offer refuge, that should raise all kinds of red flags for viewers. But Sameer (Emraan Hashmi) apparently hasn’t seen “Misery” or the recent “In the Earth,” so he follows Bhullar (Annu Kapoor) to a chateau where a group of giddy seniors eagerly awaits a visitation.

As if those red flags aren’t enough, Sameer is provided with a change of clothes left behind by a previous guest. Still not enough red flags? Sameer is also asked to join in a game – a mock trial in which the retirees play their former roles as judge (Acharya, played by Dhritiman Chatterjee), prosecutor (Zaidi, played by Amitabh Bachchan) and defense attorney (Bhullar). There’s also Hariya (Raghubir Yadav) with the flute, who is a former executioner, as Sameer will soon learn, and Anna (Rhea Chakraborty), a beautiful young maid who is strangely content with being in the middle of nowhere.

While horror fans would be yelling at the screen for Sameer to bolt for an exit in this situation, he is inexplicably game. Murder is the charge, and he insists there’s no skeleton in his closet. Despite that they’ve never met, Zaidi is apparently ready to stake his reputation on the case. “Chehre” inches toward inevitability from here, with Zaidi piecing together Sameer’s guilt in scenes that recall “Knives Out.” While there’s no torture porn in “Chehre,” it does have a moralistic tenor much like the “Saw” franchise as the elders very literally serve as judge, jury and executioner.

“Chehre” is a technically proficient effort that is prime fodder for a Hollywood remake. Unfortunately, that’s not quite a compliment given the ways it readily conjures up tired Hollywood tropes. The screenplay by Ranjit Kapoor and director Rumy Jafry, which borrows liberally from a Friedrich Dürrenmatt novel that has been adapted into several films, casts vigilantism as villainy, while presenting Sameer as an unsympathetic protagonist. Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw has probably won some fans after 10 “Saw” films, but there’s just very little appeal in the presumptuous and vindictive old crank Zaidi. “Chehre” is such a cynical downer, it’s no wonder viewers have instead flocked to the crowd-pleasing “Chal Mera Putt 2” that opened on the same weekend.

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