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Sunday, May 27, 2012

BAD ASS -- DVD review by porfle

If you've followed actor Danny Trejo's career from the young prison boxer (which he actually was at the time) of RUNAWAY TRAIN to the fearsome knife-throwing assassin in DESPERADO to the even more fearsome killing machine Machete in MACHETE, then no doubt the lively trailer for BAD ASS (2012) made you think "Hey, this could really be cool."  And if you're like me, actually watching the movie made you think "Hey, this is really...ehh."

Not that seeing perennial bad ass Trejo, now in his late 60s, as a geriatric do-gooder bopping around in a baseball cap, baggy shorts, and sneakers isn't funny and somewhat endearing.  The scene in which he intervenes between two hostile skinheads and an old man on a city bus, kicking their butts and becoming a YouTube hero in the bargain, is feelgood stuff that satisfies my urge to vicariously dole out vigilante justice to those who deserve it. 

Other scenes with Trejo's "Frank Vega" character taking on various attackers and administering gut-busting stomach punches and granite-knuckled haymakers, all in a quest to find the killers of his best friend Klondike (Harrison Page) while the police do nothing, have a similar visceral appeal.  But the movie surrounding all of this is a hit-and-miss affair that resembles some cheesy 70s flick you might have paid scant attention to at the drive-in whenever there wasn't something kinetic taking place on the screen. 

Of course, this may have been director and co-writer Craig Moss' intention and, if so, he has succeeded.  The cheese factor begins early with a flashback of young Viet Nam veteran Frank (Shalim Ortiz) unsuccessfully readjusting to civilian life while wearing what looks like a Halloween wig that was cut and styled at a dog-grooming parlor.  The actress playing the elder Frank's mother (Tonita Castro) later on appears to be between 5-10 years older than him at most. 

When Frank comes to the rescue of pretty young Amber (Joyful Drake), the battered wife next door, their May-December romance is handled in about as embarrassing a fashion as you might imagine.  Amber's son Martin (John Duffy) sports a 70s-style 'fro and is one of those hip wisecracking kids we're supposed to find funny even though we actually want to place-kick him through a bay window.  The dialogue during all this is pretty wince-inducing although Danny, bless his heart, brings his best game to the whole thing, even giving us a crying scene at one point.

Forgetting the film's dumber elements and concentrating on the action is your best bet.  Ron Perlman makes a brief appearance as the city's crooked mayor, but it's his henchman Charles Dutton who gets quality screen time with Frank when he discovers that the local hero is in possession of a flash drive (given to him by Klondike) that could send the mayor to prison. 

Once Frank is captured and tortured via some painful-looking booby electrodes, Dutton does the actor equivalent of Hulking out with some big, and I mean really big-big bad-guy acting that culminates in one of those epic dirty fistfights that makes you wish the camerawork and editing were better.  And right before that, we get a crash-tastic chase between two city buses which pretty much makes the whole movie worth watching. 

The DVD from 20th-Century Fox Home Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  Extras consist of a director's commentary track and a making-of featurette.

The oddest thing about this film is that in the midst of Frank's occasionally lighthearted quest for justice (Danny Woodburn, the midget from "Seinfeld", has a funny cameo) there's a jarringly nasty scene that's so violent, with the basically decent Frank suddenly turning so heartlessly sadistic, that it's like something out of a torture porn flick.  Yet in his commentary, director Moss seems to regard this as just another cool scene topped off with a couple of funny zingers.  It's just this sort of thing that makes BAD ASS such a disjointed and not particularly cohesive movie--not really bad but not all that good, either.

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