A viewer can tell what writer/director Craig Moss was trying to accomplish with Bad Ass, but the execution just wasn’t there. Inspired by the Epic Beard Man viral video, so much so that one of the production companies for this flick is listed as Amber Lamps, LLC, Bad Ass follows Danny Trejo as Frank Vega, a down on his luck Vietnam vet who kicks the shit out of a couple of skinheads on a Los Angeles bus.
Frank isn’t a bad guy. The skinheads were messing with an old man on the bus and got what was coming to them. This being the internet age, Frank becomes a viral sensation overnight. Before he can do anything about it, he’s been glossed with the moniker of Bad Ass. That’s what people call him, whether he likes it or not. He seems kind of ambivalent about the whole thing. He never wanted to be a public hero, nor did he ever ask for fame.
At this point in the film, early on in Frank’s notoriety, Moss could have taken the film in any number of directions. He could have portrayed Frank as being overwhelmed by all the new attention. He could have gone all-in with the action, taking it to absurd levels of violence. The possibilities are endless. What he chose to do was introduce a murder plot that involves a lot of riding the bus to bring to resolution.
Ron Perlman is Mayor Williams. He has a shady real estate scheme in the works, and employs a gangster named Panther (Charles S. Dutton) as his hatchet man. One of Frank’s old buddies from the war, Klondike Washington (Harrison Page), has evidence of the mayor’s wrongdoing, and ends up murdered for his trouble. Frank, now that he’s Bad Ass, decides to track down Klondike’s killers and get some payback. If, along the way, payback ends up being indistinguishable from justice for the regular folks of Los Angeles, then that’s good, too.
The plot for this film will be familiar in its progression and resolution to anyone raised on a diet of American action flicks. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. When done well, vigilantism is a rich vein to tap — one that filmmakers have used to effect for decades. The problem with this film isn’t the plot. It’s just about everything else.
When I decided to watch this film, I was expecting a shitty movie, and that is what we viewers get. Unfortunately, Bad Ass is a bad shitty movie, and not a good shitty movie. It lacks the kitsch and charm that truly inept films have. There’s no sense of desperation. There’s no sense that the filmmakers were barely hanging on. There’s no edge.
Bad Ass is a film with a decent idea. Frank Vega is a character that audiences can root for. Trejo doesn’t have a lot to offer when it comes to acting, but he made Frank a likable guy. Since he was starring, he had to carry the film, and did so beyond his talents as a performer. But Moss gave him no help. The vast majority of the film is no better than a poor TV movie effort from the 1980s. There is some hope about a third of the way through when the quality of the film ticks up some, but it didn’t last. The film settles back into amateurism and never climbs back out.
I am genuinely surprised at how bad this movie is. It shows that just because a filmmaker can come up with an idea, it does not follow that said idea will be executed competently. Alien: Resurrection is a better film than Bad Ass.