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How Bad Ass is Danny Trejo? Really Bad Ass!

Bad Ass
Year: 2012
Genre: Action, Drama
Director: Craig Moss
Starring: Danny Trejo

So I’m flipping through Netflix last night and happen to see this: “Danny Trejo Bad Ass.”  Well I agree with that sentiment, Danny Trejo certainly is a Bad Ass, though I’ve never really known him to wear a fanny pack.  I figure this must be some sort of documentary about the man, the Machete himself, Bad Ass Danny Trejo.  Nope, it’s a movie.  A movie called Bad Ass that’s starring Bad Ass character actor Danny Trejo as, you guessed it, a bad ass.  So how Bad Ass is Bad Ass?  Well, let’s take a look the Bad Ass and not so Bad Ass things about Bad Ass.  I promise I will try to refrain from the excessive use of the phrase “Bad Ass” another time.  It’s just that they say it about 800 billion times in the movie that it kind of gets stuck in your head like a mantra.

1. The BAD ASS Source Material

Bad Ass draws its immediate inspiration from a meme.  That’s right – when the movie announces that it’s “based on actual events” what it really means to say is that it is loosely inspired by a viral video.

Now there are a few changes here.  First of all, the popular “Epic Beard Man” has now been replaced with hard-working Danny Trejo as Frank Vega.  Though he still wears the same fanny pack and the blue “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER” shirt as Epic Beard Man, the character motivation is completely different.  In Bad Ass, Frank Vega steps forward on the bus to the defense of an elderly senior citizen who’s fallen the victim to a pair of skinheads.  Beyond race and motivation, however, the character of Frank Vega has little in common with Epic Beard Man.  Frank Vega is a nice guy normally, a Vietnam Vet with a poignant backstory, a man who just wants to find one day in his 60+ years he can call his “best day.”

Though these events only take up the first 15 minutes of the film, the audience is repeatedly reminded of this video.  Any time a character is bleeding, someone points out “you’re leaking,” just like in the video.  There is also a moment where a black man lies on the ground, beaten and moaning “I need Amber Lamps!”  The fact that Frank Vega becomes an internet celebrity when cell-phone coverage of this event goes viral is a constant reminder of the source material.  Bad Ass could be a great movie on it’s own, however it never quite overcomes the fact that it’s based on a meme.

2. Danny Trejo’s BAD ASS Performance

bad ass 1Danny Trejo is one of my favorite character actors.  He was a drug addict and criminal who was in and out of prison for 11 years before finally entereing a 12 step drug recovery program to turn his life around.  While speaking at a Cocaine Anonymous support group, Trejo met a young man who later called on him for help.  Trejo went to meet him at what turned out to be the set of the movie Runaway Train.  Trejo was immediately cast as convict extra because of his rough, tattooed appearance.  Since then, Danny Trejo has been in over 200 movies.  He always plays a specific type of character, a hardened man, usually a prison convict or an assassin of some sort.  From his small parts in countless crime films to his recent starring role in Machete one would get the impression that Danny Trejo is a hard man.  Actually, if you see him in interviews Danny Trejo is a pleasant, down-to-Earth guy who just loves life.  While he never seems to say no to even the worst script tossed his way, he’s not in this business for the prestige or the money, he is a man who honestly enjoys his work and does it all for the experience.  The world needs more bon vivants like Danny Trejo.

Having been in over 200 films, Danny Trejo has obviously learned how to act.  Bad Ass, despite its flaws, really did open my eyes to the appreciation of Danny Trejo the actor, as opposed to Danny Trejo the typecast character type.  He presents Frank Vega as a well-rounded character, unique from any role he’s ever played.  There is a moment, early in the film, where Frank is depressed about the sad state of his life and just breaks down crying.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Danny Trejo cry on camera before.  There’s a huge difference between a one-note tough guy character like Cuchillo in Predators and a believable human being like Frank Vega in Bad Ass.

3. The BAD ASS Character of Frank Vega

bad ass 2I really don’t like how Frank Vega’s backstory is presented.  It’s all narrated flashback as it touches on the highlights of his life story.  He grew up with his family on a farm in Santa Rosa, California.  After high school he joined the Army and served a few tours in Vietnam, even spending a year tortured as a POW.  On his return home he found a society that didn’t want to hire a decorated Vet with a high school diploma and a war injury.  He’s spent the last 40 years struggling to make ends meet between a meager disability check and running a hot dog stand that’s fallen on hard times.

However, after the incident on the bus, the public gives him the name Bad Ass which he takes as a compliment.  Though the 15 minutes of fame were welcome, Frank would rather just get on with his life.  In conversation with a friend, Frank mentions that he’s never had a day he could call “the best day of his life,” and that is his one goal, to have a moment he can look back on and say “that was my best day.”  While Frank inevitably ends up fighting crime with his fists (it is an action movie after all), he is also a hero in minor ways; like helping an old woman carry groceries to her car or nursing the wounds of a neighbor who  was the victim of domestic violence.  Frank is a nice guy, a believable character that the audience can really get behind – even though he does get involved in an intense revenge story.

4. Frank’s BAD ASS Revenge Quest

Frank ends up with a roommate, an old war buddy of his named Klondike.  He is killed by gangsters who want a flash drive he happens to have hidden with Frank.  HOW this elderly man got involved in these shady dealings is never explained and remains an infuriating open plot hole.  The police seem to be doing nothing to solve this murder and when Frank watches a news report about the murder of a white kid who was mugged but justice was served thanks to the hard work of 20 investigators, Frank knows the only way he’s going to get these killers is if he goes out and there and gets them himself.  He eventually solves the mystery of the flash drive and finds the killers, leading up to the film’s dramatic climax.

bad ass 3Before getting to that climactic moment, however, I did want to bring up a few things about this revenge quest of Frank’s.  Well mostly the TERRIBLE scene where he comes home to find Oddjob in his house wanting to kill him.  They have a little tussle and he tosses the well-dressed assassin out the window.  It’s a scene that comes out of NOWHERE!  It doesn’t even have a purpose as it is repeated again, contextually, when Frank finally tracks down the killers.  There’s another random moment like this when Frank is helping an old woman with her groceries when a couple of skinheads drive past firing a machine gun and screaming: “Die Bad Ass!”  Is it the same two skin heads from the beginning out for vengance?  Does it have to do with the flash drive?  What the hell is this scene doing in the movie because it serves no purpose.  Actually it does serve one purpose – as a cheap way to set up a shitty joke.  Frank shields the woman on the ground and asks:

Frank Vega: Ma’am, are you okay?
Horny Old Lady: Am I okay?  I haven’t had a man touch me like this in 20 years!

5. The BAD ASS Bus Chase

The climactic showdown between Frank and the criminal responsible for his friend’s death is a big chase scene.  Well, a massive Michael-Bay-style explosion followed by a bus chase.  Both the criminal and Frank steal city buses and play destruction derby all over town, culminating in a game of chicken on a set of train tracks.  It’s pretty exciting but for one thing.  These buses are DESTROYED.  One of them flips and smashes into everything while the other is run over by a speeding train.  However both men climb away from the wreckage unscathed to carry on their fight.  First, neither of them were wearing seat belts, City buses aren’t the sturdiest handiwork and a chubby black man and a senior citizen are two men NOT in their prime health.  Both of these men should have been dead.  Normally there is a suspension of disbelief with the amount of abuse characters take in films, but this unhealthy duo goes through things that would kill a normal person, like getting RUN OVER BY A TRAIN and just brush it off.  It actually takes me right out of the movie to see them walk away from in.

And finally…

6. Ron Perlman is not a BAD ASS

bad ass 4Well, in this movie at least.  Ron Perlman is another great character actor that plays a lot of tough characters.  Here he gets almost top billing and shows up in two scenes as a corrupt mayor committing white collar crime.  Is one menacing line is pretty weak too.  I’d never seen Ron Perlman phone-in a performance before but that is clearly what he is doing in Bad Ass.  Why put Ron Perlman in a movie and not use the guy to his full potential?

Overall, Bad Ass feels like a typical 90s urban action flick.  The whole “one man army vs a crime ridden neighborhood” plotline is something that’s been done too many times before and Bad Ass brings nothing new to the table.  In fact you can’t even use the excuse that it’s an homage to the genre.  It barely rises above mediocrity because of Danny Trejo’s great performance.  The character of Frank Vega is an interesting and unique individual.  The scenes of him bonding with the kid next door bear a lot more weight than him beating the hell out of neighborhood thugs.  It’s the character development that actually saves this movie that’s full of more plot holes than bullet holes.


About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats
Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski. Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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