You know that Pagalpanti doesn’t have much going for it when it resorts to patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel and the first destination of the second-rate filmmaker.

The title promises a harum-scarum comedy and accordingly, Anees Bazmee’s movie plunges headlong into the plot. Rajkishore (John Abraham) is a misfortune magnet who leaves a trail of bad luck in his wake. Along with his friends Chandu (Arshad Warsi) and Chunky (Pulkit Samrat), Rajkishore runs up a debt, which forces the trio into the employment of the gangsters Raja (Saurabh Shukla) and Wifi (Anil Kapoor). Meanwhile, a pair of rival underlords keep trying to bump off Raja and Wifi and keep failing.

A bigger criminal than this inefficient bunch is Niraj Modi (Inaamulhaq), clearly modelled on the fugitive diamantaire. That’s one reason the movie is set in London. Another seems to be to give everybody on the set a trip abroad. This works out nicely for the characters played by Brijendra Kala, Zakir Husain and Mukesh Tiwari. They get to take in the British weather and run amok in public squares, parks and castles. However, they keep getting tripped up by the pedestrian writing and severe shortage of engaging characters and imaginative gags.

The plot, written by a minor army of writers, isn’t hectic as much as it is inchoate. Every scene is crammed with major and minor players – apart from the trip to England, the production also seems to have worked as an employment guarantee scheme. Among those who retain their dignity are Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Arshad Warsi and Brijendra Kala. The rest keep scrunching their faces and flapping about in an attempt to breathe life into an effort that is about as sincere as one of Nirav Modi’s schemes.

Pagalpanti (2019).