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Review: A Boy and His Tiger Live the 'Life of Pi'

While the characters starve, it's a feast for the eyes

Director: Ang Lee
Rating: PG. Running Time: 127 minutes
Stars: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma

True, the concepts present in Yann Martel's best-selling novel — the nature of God and religion, the right of each of us to cast our lives in our own chosen narratives, the place of humans in the natural world — are all present in David Magee's layered script. But such literary elements seem oddly out of place in this, a magically implausible, passionately visual adventure story.

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Actor Suraj Sharma in Ang Lee's Life of Pi

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Suraj Sharma plays Pi.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is a teenager traveling with his family on a cargo ship from India to Canada, where they plan to open a zoo (the animals for which are traveling below, in the cargo hold). There's a storm, the ship sinks, and our hero finds himself floating on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and a Bengal tiger. There's a flurry of passenger-eats-passenger action, and pretty soon we're left with just Pi and the tiger.

For the next hour and a half or so, Pi and the big cat float across the Pacific, striking an uneasy truce that seems destined to last just as long as Pi succeeds in catching enough fish to keep the tiger fed. Along the way they brave storms, a flock of flying fish, the wake of a breeching whale and relentless sun. For our two protagonists, it's an ordeal of awful magnitude. But for us, it's such a feast of visual delights — magnificent cloudscapes, eye-dazzling glimpses of the sea life below and psychedelic hallucinations — that we almost feel guilty enjoying them so much.

It doesn't ruin anything to tell you that Pi eventually stumbles ashore — we're aware of that from the opening scene, when grown-up Pi (Irrfan Khan, who played the police detective in Slumdog Millionaire) starts to tell his story. Pi's salvation comes none too soon, as even the most picturesque of voyages can become tedious after awhile, and at two hours-plus, Life of Pi could use one or two fewer lingering shots of the lifeboat and its passengers corking along on an endless sea.

By the way, anyone looking for Gerard Depardieu, who gets prominent promotional mention as "the Frenchman," will have to look fast. In the most oversold star billing since Marlon Brando became Superman's absentee father, Depardieu looms over, by my reckoning, less than a minute of screen time. Not that we miss him when he's gone; we just kind of wonder why he was there in the first place.

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