Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Bad Ass (2012) on Blogcritics.
Inspired by the so-called “Epic Beard Man” viral video (which contained actual footage of a brutal fight that occurred in 2010 aboard a transit bus in Oakland, California), Bad Ass stars Danny Trejo (Machete) as vigilante Frank Vega. Following a backstory-filling montage (in short, he’s a Vietnam vet who ran a hot dog stand after the war), Vega intervenes when a couple of punks start messing with a passenger on the bus he’s riding. His swift but punishing beating of the troublemakers is caught on video and uploaded to the internet.
Vega becomes an overnight celebrity and friend to all cops, instantly recognized by passersby (some of whom wear his likeness on t-shirts). The connection to the real-life bus fight, tenuous to begin with (the film removes the racially-charged elements of the actual events), ends there as Vega’s story takes a completely different direction. His mother passes away, leaving him her house. He moves in, sharing the home with his best friend and fellow vet, Klondike (Harrison Page). Despite being a pair of haggard old drunks, Klondike can handle himself in a fight too. Unfortunately, he is shot to death by some thugs while walking home late one night.
Reeling from the loss of his friend, Vega resigns himself to solve the mystery behind his buddy’s murder. Not satisfied with the progress of the police (or lack thereof), Vega takes the law into his own hands. The convoluted plot involves a crooked politician (Ron Perlman) who is trying to buy up houses in Vega’s rundown neighborhood. Klondike’s involvement is never satisfyingly explained, but he apparently had some vital information contained on a flash drive. The film’s tone veers wildly between grotesque—though wholly unoriginal—violence (including a redo of the garbage disposal scene in Rolling Thunder) and goofy comedy. That may not sound noteworthy, what with the glut of dark comedies over the years, but it is when done as poorly as it is here.
Hampered by often inexplicable decisions made by the primary characters, Bad Ass lumbers along until it reaches its big “who cares?” conclusion. The storytelling is confusing and the acting is uniformly stilted and unconvincing. There isn’t really any “guilty pleasure” value here, as the movie is just too dull to even laugh at. The whole viral-video-celebrity concept isn’t explored to any notable degree, after a while it becomes irrelevant that Vega had 15 minutes of internet fame. Incidentally, the film’s climatic bus chase is cobbled together with footage borrowed from the old Schwarzenegger flick, Red Heat (1988). Here’s some good advice, check out that otherwise unrelated movie instead of wasting 90 minutes with Bad Ass.
Bad Ass looks pretty solid in its AVC-encoded 1080p transfer, framed at 1.85:1. The movie was shot digitally and the resulting picture is clean and sharp, with realistic colors. The level of fine detail is reasonably high, capturing every line and pit in Trejo’s especially weathered-looking face. Overall it’s nothing to get too excited about, but for a low budget movie it looks impressive. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is similarly acceptable, with always intelligible dialogue. The score sounds a little thin and at times too quiet, but the action scenes feature a good amount of bottom end and surround channel activity.
Audio commentary by writer-director Craig Moss is the primary feature on this sparsely supplemented Blu-ray. A sampling of the commentary track revealed an enthusiastic Moss delivering quite a bit of information about the production. If you enjoy the film, it’s worth a listen. Additionally there is a brief featurette called “Birth a Bad Ass” that is the usual mix of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and film clips.