To enjoy a film like Rail is possible, but only through a conscious effort of switching your brain on and off at appropriate places. Take this, for instance. Near the end of the movie, you find Dhanush dancing on top of a train running at a speed no less than 150 kmph, and he sings and sends flying kisses to his sweetheart who's standing on the engine, reciprocating his lunacy with glee. And that's not as part of a dream song, but in real time. You have no way but to adapt to this movie's sensibility levels in order to survive it.
Thankfully the film doesn't make it impossible for you. It parodies itself, ridicules itself and is willing to do anything to itself for being what it wants to be. And what it wants to be, is a wholesome entertainer. There is humour, suspense, romance, melodrama, politics and social commentary, and in the midst of all of this, the film has time to throw references to Rajinikanth. If history is any indication, nothing good ever came out of any movie that tried to be everything at once. And Rail doesn't disprove that.
Balli Sivaji (Dhanush) is a pantry boy for whom the train is the whole world (so we are duly informed through a voiceover - thankfully we don't see him spouting any sentimental lines about trains and their virtues), and Saroja (Keerthi Suresh) is a touch-up girl for an actress who is onboard. Along with them on the train are a central minister and his neurotic security officer, a gang of robbers with a fate no better than that of this movie's audiences, and pantry boys well-equipped with quirks borrowed from '90s Tamil comedies.
Things conspire one on top of the other to leave the train "Unstoppable", but the hero and the incompetent script fight back.
Films like these need a water-tight screenplay and action set-pieces that are delivered at accurate moments that sweep you off your feet and leave you no time or in no mood to ask logical questions. Some movies have raised the bar by managing to make us care for their characters in the midst of all this. Rail is not a desperate imitator of these films, and only borrows the framework from them, to mount its less ambitious sub-plots onto. This is evident from the way it sidelines the gravity of the plot at every perceived opportune moment to take a shot at humour and social commentary.
We see the characters in the train joking about death and the government officials' indifference to the impending grave disaster, and the stereotypes of the TRP-greedy TV channels being used for comedic effect. But all these elements lend themselves as mere formula ingredients and do not function at a remotely cerebral or emotional level. Added to that, the overly long duration of the film manages to kill off any sprouts of interest that sprung up accidentally.
You feel for Dhanush as he gives his all to a script that is completely ungrateful to his capabilities. Keerthi Suresh shows promise but is let down by her poorly-written character. The other performances are not remarkable. The music is bearable, but the cinematography is sub-standard. What irk most are the green screenshots that are lazily done as they betray the film at every possible moment.
As said earlier, it is possible to bear this film with some effort, but it is not possible to find a reason why.