Trejo, Charles S. Dutton, Ron Perlman, Joyful Drake.
It's often said that art
imitates life. Such is the case in Bad Ass, a film
loosely inspired by a viral video of a senior citizen fighting
on the Oakland, California transit system.
Danny Trejo stars as Frank
Vega, his appearance based on that of Bay Area native Tom
Bruso, dubbed "Epic Beard Man" by fans of the popular Oakland
bus fight video.
Bad Ass tells the story of Frank Vega, a Vietnam War veteran
that had been on the short end of the stick for most of his
life. Frank returned from the war only to discover that the
love of his life had a family with another man, and that his
combat injuries prevented him from becoming a police officer.
After 40 years, Frank is left with little more than a menial
job, a faithful dog, and a best friend responsible for saving
his life in Vietnam. A physical encounter with a pair of
skinheads on a Los Angeles bus catapults Frank to local fame,
earning him the nickname "Bad Ass." Not long after, the
unsolved murder of his combat buddy plunges Frank into a
conspiracy of crime and corruption that reaches all the way to
the city Mayor's office.
If you're a fan of Danny
Trejo, or of vigilante films in general, Bad Ass will appeal
to you. Otherwise, it's a low-budget film that suffers from a
weak story pieced together with recycled themes from other
Bad Ass is the fourth
feature film by Craig Moss, whose previous works include
parody movies such as The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up
Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It. The film's
visuals are decent, despite Moss' relative inexperience behind
the lens, but where the film falters is the story.
The screenplay was written
by director Craig Moss, and Elliot Tishman, and their
inexperience in this respect shows. Much of the dialogue
for the movie is uninspiring, and Frank Vega's wild goose hunt
of those responsible for his friend's murder comes off as
filler. Despite the fact that Bad Ass was filmed on a
low budget, it becomes obvious halfway through that the
filmmakers were simply trying to dredge up 90 minutes of a
Possibly because of budget
restraints, Bad Ass has an unusual cast in that many of the
actors typically work as stuntmen. The majority of the fight
scenes involve professional stunt doubles, although it's clear
during dialogue that many of these actors aren't particularly
experienced when it comes to speaking roles.
The remainder of the cast
is rounded out with several popular comedians, and a few
seasoned actors from film and television. Danny Trejo, who is
normally relegated to "tough guy" roles in film, is given an
opportunity to show his more vulnerable side in Bad Ass. Trejo
does the best with what he can in the film, but the truth is
that he's simply limited by the writing.
Danny Trejo's first leading
role was that of Machete, in the 2010 film of the same name.
Machete was unapologetic as a B-Movie, but it also
demonstrated what Trejo was capable of when dealing with a
clever script and a decent film budget. So while Bad Ass
scores points for revealing a kindler, gentler Danny
Trejo, the writing simply leaves too much on the table that
the ex-convict could have used to make this a cult classic.
Ron Perlman makes a
surprise appearance in Bad Ass as a corrupt mayor, although
his screen time is limited. The incredibly beautiful
Joyful Drake offers a warm performance as Amber Lamps, next
door neighbor and love interest of Frank Vega.
Yet the biggest casting
highlight of Bad Ass is inarguably Charles S. Dutton as
Panther, the Los Angeles crime boss responsible for the death
of Vega's friend. Despite Bad Ass being a low budget
film, Dutton doesn't mail this one in. Dutton turns up on the
volume on his mischievous performance as one of the film's villains, which
makes his inclusion a redeeming element of the movie.
If you're an action junkie,
Bad Ass fortunately delivers. Despite knocking on 70's door,
Danny Trejo is still able to roll with the punches in this
action flick. Many of the fight scenes are as funny as
they are brutal, making up for the sub-par story line.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film pays homage to Scarface, as Frank Vega questions a man while shoving his hand
down a running garbage disposal.
The DVD extras include a
"making of" featurette for the film, as well as a director's
commentary by Craig Moss. The commentary is incredibly
insightful as to how Moss had to make do with less for the
film with respect to the budget, as well the involvement by
the actors in his past movies.
There are also subtle nods
to other movies in Bad Ass (such as Pulp Fiction) that someone
would otherwise miss unless they took advantage of the
commentary. However I did find it odd that Moss doesn't credit
1988's Red Heat as inspiration for the game of "chicken"
played with buses in his own film. The scene is virtually identical
to that of Danko and Viktor Rosta in the 80's crime drama, so
it seemed unusual that Moss doesn't mention this in the
The bottom line: Bad Ass is
definitely worth a rent if you are a fan of Danny Trejo, or
enjoy a bone-crunching vigilante flick. It has its
moments of action and humor, and in fairness you can't expect
Gran Torino or Man on Fire because of its limited budget.
If you're a casual action fan, you should definitely consider
renting it before buying the DVD.