The premise of Bad Ass -- a riff on the "Epic Beard Man" viral video with Danny Trejo as the ass-whupper -- suggests a certain kind of movie: a goofy, modern Death Wish with over-the-top action. Unfortunately, the budget and a mixed bag of ideas and influences pull the film in so many opposing directions that it ends up going nowhere at all, stalling between a less-outrageous Machete and an unusually sweet-natured true hero story that never really jives with the movie's roots.
For those unfamiliar with "Epic Beard Man," Bad Ass is based on a YouTube sensation of an old man with a Santa Claus beard beating up another man on an Oakland bus. Moss borrows a few significant elements, such as the fact that the original guy was a Vietnam vet, but he skims over the potential that the real guy might have a mental problem or even have been at fault for the altercation. Here, Frank Vega (Trejo) is an old man who feels life passed him by when he joined the service, and his claim to fame occurs when he intervenes in an argument between a black passenger and two skinhead aggressors.
In the featurette included on the Blu-Ray, Trejo mentions that he was inspired to take the role because of Frank's military history, citing personal friends who had similar experiences (in flashbacks, Moss shows us how Frank's service loses him his dream girl and knocks him out of the job market). A good portion of the first 20 minutes of Bad Ass focuses on some of those feelings, and does so decently, but it's hard to reconcile that kind of emotional investment with a film that builds to a chase between two city buses.
Shortly after Frank becomes a local hero, there's a brief section that really rises to just the right level of absurdity. He foils a stick-up in a liquor store, and walking home he encounters two women taking out the garbage who plead with him to take care of all the corrupt "motherf---ers" running the city into the ground. It's funny, it's exciting, and it still has a hint of the social justice angle that Moss obviously wants to include. Sadly, Frank ends up wrapped up in an investigation into the death of his best friend instead, which is a long, tedious series of connect-the-perps from a guy who knows a guy to the top of the food chain.
Top-of-the-food-chain guys are played by Charles Dutton and Ron Perlman in woefully underwritten roles, and their plot to raise crime in the area so they can raze it and dig for oil (??) is silly beyond belief. Moss also throws in a snarky kid (John Duffy) and his sweet mother, Amber Lamps (Joyful Drake), with whom Frank forms a romantic relationship. The movie concludes with a bus chase made up of borrowed footage (from Red Heat, so I'm told), which is awkward attempt to make the film seem like a bigger production. Why any of this is necessary when the recipe for a film like this seems so simple is beyond me, but Bad Ass shows an unusual disinterest in simply allowing Trejo to live up to his character's nickname.
Well, the Blu-Ray's art is better than the weird "muscles through the T-shirt" poster, but this also looks wonky, stretching short Danny Trejo into a towering giant with what looks like someone else's body, as well as borrowing Machete's tagline. The disc comes in an eco-friendly case (the kind with holes punched in it), and no insert.
Video - 1.85:1 1080p AVC: Bad Ass was almost certainly shot on digital, but it goes for a warm, filmic look and mostly succeeds. Contrast is flat during a couple of the darkest night scenes, but colors are nicely-rendered, and fine detail is excellent, with a thin layer of grain over everything. Digital effects and tweaks to the picture are more than apparent, including a ton of obvious color grading and CG blood that practically leaps off the screen, but I don't think that's really a fault of the transfer. A very pleasing image.
Audio - 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio: Just like the visuals, Bad Ass's HD audio is bright and poppy, with crisp dialogue, music cues that fill out the surrounds, and plenty of action near the end involving buses and trains that provide everything from thunderous explosions to tinkling, shattering glass. Not a demo track or anything, but it's a satisfying mix that more than gets the job done. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Two extras are included: an audio commentary with director/writer Craig Moss, and the "Birth of a Bad Ass" (6:09) featurette. The featurette is a pretty forgettable EPK, but the commentary is okay, with Moss (and uncredited guest Todd Haberman) providing a general look into the making of the movie. Topics touched on include the hiring of the actors, fake beards, and the limitations of a tiny budget. On the other hand, there are some significant gaps of silence, and Moss curiously avoids mentioning the fact that much of his bus footage is taken from Red Heat, or many other uses of digital effects (he cracks jokes instead).
Trailers for Fox Blu-Ray, Get the Gringo, Thin Ice, Act of Valor, and "Homeland" play before the main menu.
Bad Ass wants to please everyone, and it's just not possible. If you're a huge Trejo fan, you could do worse than checking this out, but it's a rental at best.
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