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Movie review: 'Bad Ass' has rough time extending 'Epic Beard Man'

'Bad Ass,' starring Danny Trejo, is based on the viral video 'Epic Beard Man.' It can't be taken too seriously, and doesn't seem to want to be.

April 14, 2012|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Has it come to this? The film "Bad Ass" is based on a February 2010 viral video that came to be known as "Epic Beard Man" in which an older white man got into a fist fight with a younger African American man on an Oakland bus over a misunderstanding that may have had racial overtones. It was a bit confusing, definitely crazy and maybe kind of cool.

In the movie version, Danny Trejo plays a bearded Vietnam vet who fights off two white skinheads from harassing an elderly black man on a bus in Los Angeles, setting off a chain of events that will eventually find him battling a crime syndicate that includes a corrupt mayor.

The obvious racial realignment of the adaptation is meant to take out any confusion over who was in the right — the elderly man being defended wears a beret for extra harmlessness — focusing on the more obvious, less troubling aspects of the story as a point of departure.

Writer-director Craig Moss, who previously made a number of parody films including the "Twilight" sendup "Breaking Wind," shrewdly pitches the movie in such a way that it's often difficult to tell what's bad on purpose or just badly handled. The cargo shorts and fanny pack? Purposely funny. The slack pacing? Probably not. The grasping at straws, stretch-it-out feel of the extended plot? Maybe? (And for fans of the original video, there is even the signature mispronunciation of "ambulance" as "Amber Lamps.") Though there seems to be some digital embellishment to the frequent fighting, with additional spurts of blood after punches, the obvious body-doubles with bad wigs keep the violence from ever getting too intense.

"Bad Ass" isn't quite as straight-faced ridiculous as the recent winking retro-exploitation pictures "Machete" or "Hobo With a Shotgun" nor as straight-up funny as the blaxploitation parody "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," but any film with a climax including two hijacked city buses in a game of chicken can't be taken too seriously either. Perhaps it is just difficult to compete with the strange spontaneity of something like a viral video; the way it takes on its own momentum may be something that can't be replicated.

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