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With director Craig Moss’ explosive 2012 action/drama “Bad Ass”, veteran actor Danny Trejo effectively joins the ranks of the “old man versus urban gangsters” genre, a club that includes such notable thespians as Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine, Rutger Hauer, and the immortal Charles Bronson. Although it’s always a lot of fun to watch Trejo pummel folks into the proverbial pavement, his latest fist-driven endeavor doesn’t come close to packing the cinematic punch of its like-minded counterparts. No, “Bad Ass” feels more like something you would’ve expected PM Entertainment to release back in the mid-90’s. It’s a serviceable adventure, but it’s certainly not Trejo’s best work. Those hoping for another “Machete” will be disappointed the most.
Trejo stars as Vietnam veteran Frank Vega, an elderly gentleman with a penchant for scraggly salt-and-pepper beards and fanny packs. Having busted his balls for 40 years selling hotdogs with almost nothing to show for it, Vega’s outlook on life isn’t exactly positive. During a seemingly routine excursion on a city bus, our hero witnesses two young punk bullying an older man. Just when things are looking particularly grim for the poor bastard, Vega springs into action, delivering a quick beatdown to these thuggish rapscallions without receiving a scratch. The entire exchange is, of course, recorded on various handheld devices, which skyrockets Frank to internet stardom. The media labels him “Bad Ass”, a line of t-shirts bearing his likeness are quickly printed up, and local morning talk shows are hungry for interviews.
Fast forward three years. Vega has just buried his mother, an event which sends him into a pretty deep depression. When he isn’t filling his gullet with alcohol, Frank spends a fair amount of time hanging out his best friend Klondike (Harrison Page). Almost immediately after entrusting a USB device to Vega’s care, Klondike is gunned down in a back alley by a pair of goons who — surprise, surprise — are looking to acquire the aforementioned portable storage device. Unhappy with the police department’s progress on the investigation, Vega decides to take matters into his own capable hands. He dons his trademark t-shirt, trims his beard, and fastens his fanny pack in preparation for the task at-hand: find the individuals responsible for his friend’s death and bring them to justice. And if he falls in love along the way, well, that’s cool, too.
“Bad Ass” is a very uneven film. The story ricochets wildly between bloody non-stop action, absurd comedy, and fluffy, tear-jerking moments straight out of a Lifetime Original Movie. The dramatic bits are more comical than they are endearing; the romantic subplot involving Vega and a deeply attractive younger woman is head-shakingly laughable, and only serves to slow the movie down. It’s good that Craig Ross and co-writer Elliot Tishman wanted to inject some slower moments into their otherwise fast-paced endeavor, but does a movie about an ass-kicking Vietnam veteran looking to avenge the death of his friend really this sort of cheesy sentimentality? Not really. However, that’s not to say that Trejo and company don’t do a fine job with the material. In fact, the performances are actually a lot stronger than you’d think. No, these issues are almost exclusive to the script. Had more attention been paid to the absurdity of the plot than Vega’s romantic leanings, this wouldn’t have been a problem.
“Bad Ass” isn’t a terrible movie. Then again, it isn’t necessarily a good one, either. Trejo does a fine job, as always, though it would have been nice had the film given Frank Vega more of a darker edge. Throughout the course of the movie, characters kept telling me how utterly badass the guy is, but I never truly felt it in my heart. You see, I came to the party to watch our hero beat the absolute snot out of a wide assortment of bad guys, not bond with the wise-cracking kid next door. Admittedly, my complaints about the film are generated mostly by my desire for wanton cinematic bloodshed, so if you don’t mind a little half-hearted characterization with your over-the-top action, chances are you’ll enjoy everything “Bad Ass” has to offer. In my opinion, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity and more than a little disappointing.
Craig Moss (director) / Craig Moss and Elliot Tishman (screenplay)
CAST: Danny Trejo … Frank Vega
Charles S. Dutton … Panther
Ron Perlman … Mayor Williams
Harrison Page … Klondike