Existential Review: Baaghi 2.
This Bollywood action flick mashes together lots of amazing things to create a less than amazing result.
Having gone on a somewhat impromptu crash course through Indian cinema over the last few years, I’ve gleaned a few observations along the way. Bollywood films tend to play pretty fast and loose with narrative and genre constraints. You can be watching a family friendly flick that suddenly gets violent and then pivots on a dime into a carefree song and dance routine. There’s definitely some cultural dislocation going on, and usually it’s a wonderful breath of fresh air. Having said that, I left the theater for Baaghi 2 shell-shocked and disoriented. After two and a half hours of director Ahmed Khan throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me, I feel I was lucky to get out of this movie alive.
Baaghi 2 (2018)
Ronny, an elite border agent for the Indian military, receives a call from Neha, an old flame in desperate trouble. A gang of masked men kidnapped her child and put her in the hospital, and nobody believes her story. Ronny starts his own investigation into the events of that day, but runs into a roadblock when everyone claims that Neha has made up the whole incident due to earlier trauma. Corrupt cops, drug dealers and armed mercenaries are all after Ronny as he is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Under the Influence.
The first problem with Baaghi 2 is that it is an amalgamation of so many different influences. Some of the action sequences seem inspired by early 2000’s action flicks from Thailand and France that feature lots of parkour. The martial arts, while quite good, feel heavily inspired by the ice cold machismo of Jet Li and Tony Jaa. A good chunk of the final act is shamelessly stealing the style (and even individual shots) from Rambo 1-3. The plot is adapted from a recent hit Telegu drama, with much of the action welded precariously on to that frame. There are several extended flashbacks to the courtship of Neha and Ronny in college that seem to just drop into the piece willy nilly. As you would expect, there is also several song and dance sequence thrown in that don’t match the tone of the surrounding scenes at all.
Style Over Substance.
Another influence that seems to inform the ethos of this film is the music video. The characters make “cool” entrances in many shots where their posture, facial expression, and even the editing techniques just smack of 90’s MTV fare. I lost count of how many times Ronny entered the field of view, strutting and just eye-fucking the camera with his best Blue Steel™ look in the first half hour alone. There are camera techniques employed frequently in Baaghi 2 that I have honestly never seen outside of a music video. Couple this with the constant soulful stares from our leads and the whole thing feels like a spoof or a farce that the director was not in on.
The acting is so cartoonish in this film that I want to believe that the director intended it to be this over-the-top. Tiger Shroff is more known for his dedication to his action performances than his deep acting chops, but he’s pretty well regarded. His action sequences here show he’s a real talent when it comes to choreography, but the editing and shot selection does him few favors. As for the non-action scenes, he and co-star Disha Patani seem to only have “earnestly stare at the camera” as their only direction.
The rest of the cast is just winging it, it seems. There’s a drug enforcement agent (named LSD, I kid you not!) who is actually charming in how absurd his character and performance is. Neha’s brother-in-law who is an MMA fighter with a drug problem is likewise all over the place. The main baddy, when he is finally revealed, goes from believable to mustache-twirling villain in five minutes. Finally, there is an Indian colonel who is so blatantly ripping off Col. Trautman from the Rambo series that it gets into the ludicrously funny territory.
Enough is Enough!
By this point you may be wondering if Baaghi 2 is silly, dumb fun. It sometimes rises to that level, but always crashes back down before attaining sublime weirdness. It is either a gonzo action film hijacked by a serious dramatic plot or a serious dramatic plot hijacked by gonzo action sequences, but what it isn’t is a lot of fun. Had the film been just an over-the-top ode to the over-serious action flicks of the 80’s and 90’s, it could have been amazing. Shroff has the physicality to create a really good fight scene, and despite some horrendous CG, the film does like to go big when it comes to its set pieces. It’s just too schizophrenic to ever satisfy any one impulse completely.
I went into this movie really excited. I thought the trailer was just so crazy that this film was going to impress by dint of just not giving a fuck. It looked like Rambo, Jackie Chan, Derek Zoolander and a Jon Secada music video had gotten into a plane crash and the trailer for Baaghi 2 was what walked out of the flaming wreckage, angry as hell. I guess that’s kind of exactly what I ended up getting, except the movie only survived the crash long enough to give one smouldering look at the camera before falling over dead from self-seriousness.