Directed by Craig Moss
Runtime 90min - Rated R
3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Bad Ass if available on VUDU starting at $3.99. Link is below review.
At the time of this review, Danny Trejo has 17 credits for feature films in various stages of production. In addition to his numerous film roles he also does a lot of charity work. Not just donating money or giving speeches to congress, this guy is involved in real hands-on work. He spends his days trying to steer young people towards a better path. His goal is to share his mistakes so others don't make them. For those who don't know, Danny Trejo doesn't just play convicts on TV, he spent a good deal of time in San Quentin. If not for supportive friends and a lucky break it's likely he'd still be living a life of crime. I highly recommend the documentary "Champion" which chronicles his life and public service.
"Bad Ass" appeared on Vudu.com sometime after midnight on Thursday, April 12th. I hadn't heard a single word about the film. Being that I have a film blog, I keep pretty close tabs on upcoming films. Yet, I hadn't crossed paths with marketing of any sort concerning "Bad Ass". So it was with a sense of hesitancy that I clicked the "rent" button. The combination of Trejo and Patrick Fabian was too much to resist.
Given the synopsis and title of the film, my fear was that "Bad Ass" would be a low-budget rehash of "Machete", the super-violent comedy based on a trailer that ran during the intermission of "Grindhouse." Danny Trejo has a cult following but his starring roles have often consisted of exaggerated characters that left little room for acting.
In my opinion, Frank Vega is a breakout role for Trejo. The character is involved in plenty of fights, but his nature is warm and caring. I'm not saying he has the depth of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but it's certainly an improvement over any of his previous roles. Trejo makes you care about Frank Vega. You don't want to see that character harmed and you are cheering him on when he gets the girl. What more can you ask from a hero?
The film starts off with a quick recap of Frank's life up to the present. Quick being the operative word. Frank grew up on a farm, fell in love, served in Vietnam, and when he came back and found that his girlfriend had started her own family, he opened a wiener stand. The next 40-or-so years are completely missing. He apparently did nothing but serve frankfurters during that time.
The insignificance that filled the gap in time is actually quite significant. To write a rags to riches story you have to establish the rags. I suppose that's what the implication of 40 years of serving hot dogs establishes. One day Frank is sitting on the bus when he witnesses a couple of skinheads harassing an elderly black gentleman. Frank intervenes and ends up embarrassing the assailants in physical combat. Thanks to the modern cellphone, Frank ends up as an internet meme and a local hero. Before long he's racking up thousands of Youtube views and visiting morning talk shows to relive his brave moment. It's all surreal to Frank who doesn't even own a cellphone. The phrase "Machete don't text" springs to mind.
The film's catalyst involves Frank's best friend, who is black, being gunned down by gangsters. It turns out that his friend may have had secret information that would have incriminated a local mayor (Ron Perlman). The police claim to be working hard to find his friend's killers, but they are too busy celebrating. They've just caught a suspect who murdered a white man and now they've decided to take it easy for a while. This doesn't settle well with Frank.
It's not lost on me that this film was released the day after Trayvon Martin's killer was arrested. The two occurrences have no direct connection except for being exemplary of the current social climate in the US. The subject of racism seems to be at the forefront of the media, at least more than it has been since the Civil Rights Movement. I try not to get too political in movie reviews, but I think it's about damn time. Racism is still deep in the roots of society and seeps through like poison to the minds of younger generations. It's my hope that educating children will cause that next generation to be much more tolerant in this culturally diverse nation.
Back to our regularly scheduled program.
The rest of the film plays out like a classic revenge story. The most recent example of the genre is "Harry Brown" starring Michael Caine. Charles Bronson exemplified the genre in the "Death Wish" films. It's not totally derivative though. The fight scenes are absolutely wonderful. Almost every action hero these days is an expert in martial arts. Frank Vega is no martial artists. He's just a hardened war vet who punches people in the face. The fights are choreographed carefully, but they still have the look and feel of real street fights. The style is reminiscient of the famous fight from John Carpenter's "They Live" starring Roddy Piper. I'll embed a Youtube clip of that fight at the bottom so you can get an idea of the aforementioned style.
This film has a nice touch of humanity. Not only with the dramatic elements, but with comedy. People are at their funniest when they aren't trying to be funny. It's just in the nature of people to do and say absurd things at absurd times. "Bad Ass" has a decent grasp of this concept. There's a piece of dialogue involving an angry mother trying to disguise her foul language in front of her child that is still making me chuckle. She's spelling out curse words so her child doesn't understand. Her parting words are,
"If you see that C-O-C-K-S-U-C-K-E-R, tell him to go fuck himself."
For a film I've never heard of, the supporting cast is excellent. Ron Perlman, Charles S. Dutton, and Patrick Fabian are all excellent actors. Browsing his IMDB profile reveals that Craig Moss has only directed spoofs until now. Not good spoofs either. They're all in the same style as "Scary Movie". "Bad Ass" represents an enormous jump in this director's career. In my opinion, he's one to keep an eye on.
I've expressed my love for V.O.D online services before and this is yet another great addition to that format. This movie is brand spanking new and you can watch it for $3.99 without leaving your home. While I love theaters I can't afford to see every film on the big screen. V.O.D has been a haven for me. While not every on-demand exclusive is worth a watch, "Bad Ass" is certainly worth your time.
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Fight Scene from "They Live"