Movie Review: Bad Ass (2012)

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You ever hear of the Epic Beard Man? If not, allow me to explain. Two years ago, in Oakland, CA, two men got into an altercation on a public bus. Why they did so isn’t exactly clear, but the 67-year-old Epic Beard Man easily gets the better of the younger man, hitting him several times in an attack that causes him to wear the proverbial crimson mask. I imagine, given the popularity of YouTube, that fights like this are filmed every day, the amateur cameraperson hoping for some sort of internet fame. This one took off though, most likely because Epic Beard Man is wearing a shirt that reads “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER,” no doubt a happy coincidence. Naturally, comparisons were drawn to Charles Bronson’s character in Death Wish, and said comparison, naturally, lead the the production of Bad Ass, a feature film based on a three-minute viral video.Like a movie based on a 30-page children’s book, Bad Ass has to aggressively expand its story, some of which, lets assume, is borrowed from the Epic Beard Man story. Frank Vega (Danny Trejo), is a Vietnam veteran, but like many who served their country during that war, he comes home to a country that fears and misunderstands him. His faded-away-soldier life as a hot dog vendor is majorly shaken up by the internet fame that finds him when a video of his courageous skull-busting of two racist skinheads goes viral. Folks in the neighborhood begin to recognize Frank, taking to calling him “Bad Ass,” and the cops invite him to ride along with him. Yes, things are going swimmingly for Frank until his pal Klondike (Harrison Page) hands him a flash drive for safekeeping. Frank doesn’t really know what a flash drive does so he agrees and the two friends have one of those conversations that let you know that one of them won’t be living much longer. When Klondike is murdered in the street, the police refuse to investigate. Frank vows to avenge Klondike, and from there everything is academic.

Now, lets assume that you have heard of Epic Beard Man. It’s true, he was filmed briefly following the events of the initial viral video talking about Vietnam. Epic Beard Man was wearing the same “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER” shirt Trejo wears, and both the man and the character have an affinity for the fanny pack. Beyond that, I suppose it’d take a documentary to show interest in the real story, because what Bad Ass whips up is a half-hearted crack at the octogenarian revenge fantasy, ripping off Grand Torino more than Death Wish, right on down to Frank’s being adopted by the family next door, an arrangement that quickly, quizzically turns romantic. In pursuit of Frank’s digital MacGuffin is a man named Panther (Charles S. Dutton), an outside specialist serving the city’s corrupt mayor (Ron Pearlman).

When the trailer to Bad Ass was released, there was some speculation that the movie itself was a hoax. The merit of a movie star like Trejo going to the trouble to pull a hoax aside, given director Craig Moss‘ track record of horrible straight-to-DVD spoof movies (Breaking Wind and The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It), skepticism about the trailer’s ability to carry weight when expanded to 90 minutes is quite understandable. Bad Ass has no true narrative structure, its characters are mostly assemblages of curious costume decisions, and its principal actors, many of whom are quite accustomed to taking paycheck roles as is, really mail it in here.

Bad Ass tries and fails to get by on its concept alone, like a lower budget, less violent Hobo With a Shotgun. It’s another futile stab at grindhouse cinema that’s identified the niche audience for such films, but not the qualities that created that audience to begin with. In its opening credits, as the hit count on Frank’s video continue to climb, Bad Ass seems to be making the argument that the makers of viral videos are our new exploitation auteurs. Ultimately, Bad Ass and the movies its reaching to emulate are trafficking in two different kinds of exploitation. There’s the audience’s desire to be titillated somehow, by blood, sex, or both; and there’s the audience’s desire to simply see someone—be it Epic Beard Man or the poor bastard he punches out—humiliated. Moss is clearly aiming for humiliation here, but Bad Ass can’t even manage that.


Bad Ass. Directed by Craig Moss. With Danny Trejo (Frank Vega), Charles S. Dutton (Panther), Harrison Page (Klondike), and Ron Pearlman (Mayor Williams). Released April 13, 2012, by Samuel Goldwyn Films.