It’s hard to say what Bad Ass is in such a rush for. The movie springs into senior citizen action without so much as an opening logo, just splashes of footage setting the rundown locales for three minutes until Danny Trejo steps into the role of Frank Vega. He beats down some thugs on a bus, the video goes viral in a montage, and boom. A plot based on the Epic Beard Man YouTube video commences.
He’s a Vietnam veteran, living on disability that probably would end up being taken away as his internet fandom grows. His new thuggish revenge career explodes, which is more than can be said for this feature. Crummy pacing and repetition will sideline action this escapade, Vega a master at bus travel. It’s easy to imagine an entire day worth of shooting just with Trejo entering a bus, sitting down, then exiting as it drives off. There’s a drinking game waiting to happen based on that element.
You’d probably become trashed by taking a shot each time Vega is approached for a fight too. Bad Ass has an out few revenge movies have, a celebrity in its midst. One can imagine neighborhood thugs seeking a thrill by taking out an internet sensation, but that doesn’t happen. Vega is the type of guy stuck with a string of unlucky encounters, or as he puts it, “violence finds me.”
Fine. It’s a revenge flick, take it for what it is. Here’s where that becomes tricky. There’s a layer to Bad Ass that gives it an exploitative edge. You can almost feel the dirty, often rotten ’70s and ’80s exploitation vibe coming from the piece, Vega even exclaiming his affection for the ’70s. Trying to make that connection is thinking too hard though. The material doesn’t call for it.
Instead, it’s a slaughterfest, fitted with impossibly fake blood that splatters as if it’s part of a video game, and a bus chase that is embarrassingly pulled from the 1988 cop flick Red Heat. That’s what Bad Ass sends the viewer away on, a clipped sequence from a 25-year old Arnold Schwazenegger film.
There are a handful of winning elements, say Vega’s coarse relationship with a young kid next door or a romance so implausible, it would have been out of place in the satire of Machete. An endless series of one-liners are impossible not to fall for either, so cheesy and read with such stiffness, you can’t help but feel nostalgic for action films of a generation ago. Then again, you’ll also realize that you’d be better off watching one of those… like Red Heat.
There’s an instant likeability to Bad Ass visually, a spunky, bright and well equipped presentation. Few shots are completed without a healthy dose of sunshine, delivering on a sense of deep, full contrast. That’s better than the black levels, which come night, dwindle into obscurity without the needed sense of fullness or energy. Thankfully, Vega’s bedtime must be around 8 p.m., since most of his brawling takes place during the day.
A thin slice of grain -which only breaks down into noise in the first few minutes- will lightly texture most of the frame, in place to ensure a steady meal of high-fidelity detail. Coming from close-ups of Trejo, it’s no surprise to see the screen saturate with such vivid definition. Medium shots are equally stern, reproduced with such fidelity, it’s as if the source material doesn’t even have to try.
Bad Ass will wander around in natural tones, doing little for its intense impact. Splashes of vibrancy will leave their mark where they should, say an especially green front lawn, while leaving flesh tones be. Neither the source nor this AVC encode feel tweaked short of mild elevation in the primaries.
The best part? All of that Red Heat footage. No, not because it’s particularly well restored, but because of how desperate they were to match it to the modern footage. Gruesome amounts of DNR are applied to smooth out what was surely a thick, hearty ’80s film stock. Almost all of the bus exteriors are blatant about it. Certain shots planted on the bus itself to capture first-person views of the destruction are left alone, sourced from what looks like a first generation DVD master in the glimpses offered, and without any noise reduction. Hilarious.
Danny Trejo hits like a truck, or so this DTS-HD mix insinuates. Each punch levels the LFE with brute force, a genuine assist to elevate Vega to a monster. That’s great too, because Bad Ass doesn’t have much else to go on. A moment of split dialogue involving Ron Pearlman (a cameo at best) will reassure the listener the stereos do exist, while the surrounds… well, they’re on and receiving power. That’s something.
Even the final bus chase is a downer, although when culled from a pre-surround era, that’s what happens. Effects are stuck in the fronts with little to no discernible separation. It’s the closest thing Bad Ass has to a high energy action scene. An explosion that sets up the chase will carry some oomph on the low end, although nothing dramatic. Trejo hits with more force.
Director Craig Moss puts together a solo commentary track, followed with a six-minute making of that dishes on the basics before closing shop.
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