Inspired by the YouTube viral video of 67-year-old Thomas Bruso, 'Bad Ass' is a brass-knuckles return to the revenge/vigilante films of yore. It doesn't quite have the kitsch or the over-indulgent exuberance of a Robert Rodriguez movie, or provide the sly adulation and witty dialogue expected of a Quentin Tarantino feature, but what it lacks in production value, and perhaps a slightly better script, it more than makes up for it in its gusto and wish to deliver a straightforward exploitation flick for a modern audience. The film comes with a facetious tone, injecting a few self-aware quips to break up the seriousness, but it doesn't make itself the butt of the joke. Its overall intent is to be enjoyed as an old-school action thriller.
The movie starts by acknowledging the story's inspiration as Danny Trejo sits quietly in the back of the city bus. It's not an exact copy of the events seen in the internet video — in fact, it's not even close — but you get the gist of it. The point is not to imitate as more importantly establish our would-be hero's celebrity status amongst the community before being forced to clean-up the streets. It's a common plot device used in the subgenre which quickly garners the character support from the locals as well win over the viewers that would normally despise such self-serving violence. Here, Trejo is seen on the worldwide web dishing out a butt-kicking to two Nazi skinheads pestering a senior citizen, which quickly earns him the nickname "Bad Ass."
Another familiar contrivance is Trejo's Frank Vega being a Vietnam Vet. He's not the disgruntled type who blames society or the government, but a decorated soldier who's been heavily marginalized and wants more than anything to live a normal, quiet life. But this wouldn't be much of a movie if it all went in that direction. Sometime after the internet video has made Frank into a recognizable face on the back of T-shirts, his best friend Klondike (Harrison Page) is murdered over a flash drive. Unable to get proper help from the police, our war hero with a heart of gold feels forced to take matters into his own hands, which is yet another quirky ploy to get the plot moving and see the untempered hand of justice wielded.
One aspect of the script from Elliot Tishman and Craig Moss, who also takes directing credits, worth admiring — and it's surprisingly not the only one — is how the story and the mystery takes its time to evolve. We travel with Frank as he questions many people from the neighborhood, man-handling a few of them because they deserve it in some form or another and simply talking with others about the violent conditions of the city. In hilarious vigilante-genre fashion, Ron Perlman and Charles S. Dutton are at the center of everything that's wrong. Along the way, we get a sweet subplot involving a wisecracking kid (John Duffy) and his mother (Joyful Drake), whose name Amber Lamps is a clever jab at the original YouTube video.
Admittedly, 'Bad Ass' is not a movie for everyone, especially when considering its low-rent, direct-to-video feel can dampen some of its potential, but there is also a good deal worth praising, coming mostly from the filmmakers' desire to bring back the old-school action thriller. Those with a familiarity of the movies it also tries to recapture will also catch the humorous nods to 'Death Wish' or the hand in the garbage disposal from 'Rolling Thunder.' But if for nothing else, this low-budget actioner is worth watching just to see Trejo and Dutton duke it out on the front lawn of someone's house. Or better yet, to see how the filmmakers hysterically repurpose the bus chase scene of 1988's 'Red Heat.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Bad Ass' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. The disc commences with a series of skippable trailers before switching over to the standard main menu option with full-motion clips and music.
It's not quite the knockout punch we'd love to see, but 'Bad Ass' still kicks butt on Blu-ray with a very great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the video is a little bland and on the sterile side of things due to it being filmed on digital HD cameras. Contrast is stable and consistent with a few moments of excellent clarity and resolution. With strong, often rich black levels and good shadow delineation, the transfer has a nice pop to it with great dimensionality. Several nighttime scenes bring the overall presentation down a notch, but not too much. Fine object and textural details are first-rate, revealing every pot-mark and scar on Trejo's distinctive face. The color palette won't likely impress, but primaries are bold and accurately rendered, making this high-def debut a pleasing watch.
The low-budget movie also arrives with a very good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which has its moments of surprises, though there are not many. The front-heavy presentation shines best when the music comes in. Song selections expand and nicely broaden the soundstage with a clean mid-range and a highly-enjoyable low-end that fills the room with deep, heavy bass. Vocals are well-prioritized and intelligible with excellent separation between the channels, providing the lossless mix with a welcoming presence. There's not much going on in the rears except some very minor bleeds from the score, which isn't enough to really extend the soundfield or immerse the listener. Still, the high-rez track is quite enjoyable and complements the video very well.
Special features are the same as on the DVD.
Inspired by a YouTube video of a senior citizen kicking some butt on a transit bus, 'Bad Ass' follows the violent exploits of a man trying to solve his best friend's murder. Featuring the talents of Danny Trejo and Charles S. Dutton, the style and humor of the movie is a return to old-school revenge/vigilante actioners and exploitation films and it's surprisingly entertaining. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good audio and video presentation, but a disappointingly small collection of supplements. Nonetheless, fans of this style of low-budget, low-rent action flicks will be generally pleased.