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‘Slumdog’ a clever, uplifting twist

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto have turned into overnight celebrities after the unexpected success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’

Dev Patel stars as a contestant and Anil Kapoor as the host of the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’

Despite the exotic nature of its foreign locale — the teeming, impoverished streets of Mumbai, India — “Slumdog Millionaire” is every inch a Danny Boyle film.

The hope within the squalor, the humor within the violence, they’re all thematic trademarks of the British director, who this time applies his wildly high-energy visual aesthetic to a rather sweet and traditionally crowd-pleasing story.

The unassuming Dev Patel stars as our slumdog underdog, Jamal, an 18-year-old who comes from nothing but is on the verge of winning more money than anyone’s ever won before on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The game show’s host (an ideally smarmy and egotistical Anil Kapoor) grows unshakably suspicious as Jamal prepares to face one last question for the top prize of 20 million rupees and has him hauled in for police questioning (by the ever-imposing Irrfan Khan).

Simon Beaufoy’s complex script, based loosely on the Vikas Swarup novel “Q&A,” glides effortlessly among Jamal’s interrogation, his unlikely success in the hot seat and his rough-and-tumble upbringing, which provided the life lessons that serve him so miraculously well now.

Jamal reflects upon the desperate times he shared with his older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), after their mother was killed in a savage anti-Muslim attack. He remembers the cruelty of the Fagin-like figure who forced them and other orphans into slavery. And he recalls fondly the time he spent with Latika (stunning Freida Pinto), his first love who, as a scared child, became the brothers’ third Musketeer.

Maybe it’s a bit too clever that every question in the game show just happens to have some connection to Jamal’s vividly Dickensian life, from his encounter with a blind child panhandler to the unfortunate reason he knows what a Colt .45 is. But that’s the point: witnessing the uplift of the charmed new life Jamal can now call his own.

“Slumdog Millionaire” won’t let him forget where he came from, though. The mad dashes through Mumbai’s most cramped corners provide a dizzy thrill with their off-kilter camera angles, despite the dismal scenery.

But then in the third act, “Slumdog Millionaire” takes an unfortunately conventional turn. The mob bosses who rule Mumbai are depicted as singularly snarling caricatures. And the delicate relationship between Jamal and Latika reveals them to be little more than a familiar pair of star-crossed lovers trying to find their way back to each other. Nevertheless, realism permeates even that aspect of the film: She’s pragmatic, he’s romantic.

The absolute ending is a joy, though, so please make sure you stick around. After all the heavy, emotionally wrenching material that preceded it for two hours, it’s the perfect final answer.

If you go

What: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Rated: R for some violence, disturbing images and language

Running time: 120 minutes

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