Don't let the fanny pack throw you - Frank Vega is one ornery senior citizen.
"Bad Ass" stars Danny Trejo as a depressed hot dog vendor whose life changes after he defends a fellow senior citizen. It's a throwaway feature that's occasionally too smart for its own good. Co-writer/director Craig Moss takes a shopworn formula and adds just enough fresh material to make it a worthy B-movie treat.
Trejo stars as Frank, a Vietnam veteran who we learn via a derivative series of flashbacks never realized his life's potential. He leaves his dull life behind after he pummels two thugs harassing an old man on the bush. Frank's heroism is captured by a fellow passenger's cell phone, and the "Bad Ass" video quickly goes viral.
Being a minor celebrity tickles Frank, but his mood sours when his best pal is rubbed out under mysterious circumstances. When Frank realizes the local police are content to let the murder remain unsolved he takes the investigation into his own calloused hands.
"Bad Ass" is superior to "Machete," Trejo's most recent starring role, and a movie which seemed far too pleased with its Grindhouse stylings. Here, Moss doesn't delude himself into thinking "Bad Ass" is revolutionary or even hip. But Moss gives Frank the kind of character shadings that makes him more than an aging force for good.
Frank takes the bus everywhere he goes, so when he needs to find a new clue or suspect he emerges from a bus to start sleuthing. It's a sly visual motif that reinforces both character and story.
Similarly rich notes play continuously through the film, from a corrupt politician dressing down a peer for sending long text messages to the self-aware banter between Frank and a neighbor's precocious pre-teen.
Even Frank's obligatory romantic partner (a feisty but warm Joyful Drake) is worked gently into the narrative, even if her vulnerability is one of many cliches lined up for our inspection. Yet the move also throws in a few unexpected gestures, like a character you'd bet a fortune would betray Frank before the final reel wraps who ends up on a far different path.
And consider an early sequence where Frank and his old pal reminisce about the past while acknowledging an uncertain future. It's the kind of scene action movies drop in to kill time between the next fist fight, but Trejo treats the moment with care, as if these were the times on set he savored.
The supporting cast, particularly Ron Perlman and Charles S. Dutton, are also in on the genre tricks and behave according. Dutton doesn't get much screen time, but when he arrives he proves a more than suitable foe for Frank.
The DVD features a commentary track by Moss as well as a short feature dubbed, "The Birth of 'Bad Ass.'" Turns out the film was inspired by a real-life viral video of an old timer delivering a whupping. Trejo also tells us about his past as an incarcerated felon who boxed fellow prisoners. That might seem like great background for a role in "Bad Ass," but Trejo cautions that movie punches are much different than the real thing.
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