“The Wedding Guest” is a thriller without thrills.
Written and directed by Britain’s Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart,” the three “Trip” fine-dining road movies starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon), it’s a stripped-down tale of a man on a mission. The man is played by Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”); the mission is to abduct a bride (Radhika Apte) on the eve of her wedding in Pakistan. (The picture was mostly shot in India, with some scenes filmed in Pakistan.)
It’s a low-tech abduction. His tools: two pistols, some zip ties, a roll of duct tape and a rented car. Scale the wall at the bride’s family compound, grab the sleeping woman out of bed, duct-tape her mouth, zip-tie her hands, toss her into the trunk of the rental and drive off.
He’s been promised a significant sum of money to do the deed, but after he kills a guard at the house, the man bankrolling the kidnapping (Jim Sarbh) tells him the deal is off. Too much heat from the law.
And that’s where “The Wedding Guest” breaks down. There’s no sign of pursuit here. Newspaper headlines pop up from time to time telling of the kidnapping, but there is no trace of cops or vengeful family members hot on the trail.
The only contact the primary characters have with the authorities is when they’re called upon to show identity documents. Time and again, the papers pass muster and the couple is sent on their way.
As the deal breaks down, things come to light revealing the victim is perhaps not really a victim. She and her abductor develop a relationship.
Patel’s character remains an enigma throughout. Apparently of either Indian or Pakistani extraction, the character is British. Raised in Leicester, he repeatedly tells everyone he meets he doesn’t know the local languages, and only speaks English. A stranger in a strange land.
He’s doing the job strictly for money, and his relationship with the man funding the crime is unclear. Why he was chosen for the job is never explained. A grim purposefulness is the only apparent qualification he brings to the table. And he’s remarkably trusting, leaving Apte’s character alone time and again while he makes calls and goes about other business.
Apte has the meatier role, because her character has secrets to conceal, and she leaves the viewer wondering what this woman is really up to. Born in Pakistan but raised in Britain, she’s a person with a foot in both worlds. However, that aspect of her character is barely explored.
The picture is very atmospheric, full of scenes of smoggy city streets clogged with traffic and teeming with humanity.
It’s a road movie, taking the characters from Pakistan to India by car and train and bus. But their ultimate destination is nowhere special.
★★ “The Wedding Guest,” with Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh. Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. 96 minutes. Rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity. Opens March 15 at multiple theaters.