Fans of drive-in fare are very, very familiar with the work of Danny Trejo, whether it be from his frequent collaborations with Robert Rodriguez (The two Machete flicks, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, etc.) or the constant stream of roles, both wide release and direct-to-video/streaming he’s accumulated in genre fare since the early 1990s. Heck, he even fought “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a flick I reviewed a couple months ago for 3-16 Day.
Trejo got a later start in the business at age 41 and had spent time in prison early in his life. His debut role was appropriately enough as a prison boxer/fight trainer in the Cannon Films drama (yes, that Cannon Films) Runaway Train where he got $320 per day’s work.
Trejo actually was a champion boxer in California prisons before embarking on Hollywood work. Since then, he’s been credited as having played 443 different roles in flicks and on TV if IMDb is to be believed. So not only do we have Cannon to thank for the Bronson vigilante flicks, the Missing in Action flicks, Over the Top AND Lifeforce, they gave Danny Trejo his acting start. (Another of his earlier roles was in Death Wish 4 with Bronson).
Mr. Trejo’s celebrating his 79th birthday here on May 16th, and I figured we’d do a tribute review of one of his flicks — 2012’s Bad Ass.
The movie was inspired by a meme/viral video from a long time ago (kind of strange that we can say that now, but I think a video from 2010 can be considered a long time ago) known as the Epic Beard Man video. More about that here.
Obviously a lot of adaptation, backstory and context were necessary to make a feature-length starring vehicle for Trejo out of a 3:30 video of a violent encounter on a bus in Oakland, so writer/director Craig Moss had to bolt on a ton of details and also changed the location of the flick.
Trejo is Frank Vega, a Vietnam veteran who grew up on a farm, fought for six years and then was a POW for another year. He got a Purple Heart, lost his girl and got rejected from being in the police academy and ended up running a hot dog cart for years until a fateful encounter on a bus in El Lay with a couple of skinhead types who are shaking down an older gentleman for his seat. Vega beats the crap out of them, people are recording the fight on the bus, it gets uploaded and the rest is history.
That gets us through the first 10 minutes of the flick, and the one viral video turns Vega’s life around with the public recognizing him and TV morning show appearances alongside his mom, who then passes away a couple months later, leaving Frank her house.
Klondike (Harrison Page, who was in a couple Russ Meyer flicks and played Capt. Trunk in the Sledge Hammer! TV show) admonishes Frank — “one of these days you’re gonna have to step out of the 1970s.” and gives him a flash drive with important stuff on it for him to stash away before going out to the corner store for a pack of smokes.
Two guys who know Klondike by name shake him down and fatally shoot him, Of course, when the cops fail to prioritize the investigation, Frank gets super p.o.ed. So about a half-hour in the flick, he puts on his “I am a motherf—er” T-shirt (a replica of the one in the original viral video) again, straps on a fanny pack, grabs a baseball bat and decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands as is required in these Revenge-o-Matic flicks (that’s what Tarantino calls em). Cue Frank’s hip-hop theme song that goes “I’m a bad ass … heeeeeey” on the soundtrack and then the true movie starts up where he walks around in slow motion and takes the bus around El Lay to embark on his quest to clear the streets of scum and find the evidence to solve his friend’s death that the system is just too corrupt to pick up.
Best Way to Deal With New-found Fame: Frank tells reporters, “I’m not a hero. I’m just a guy making $500 a month on disability trying to fit in.”
Best Way for a Couple of Old Guys to Spend a Wednesday Night: Frank lets his Vietnam War buddy Klondike Washington handle his VHS copy of “Behind the Green Horse” for helping him move. Then they go through a bunch of beer.
Best Way to Deal with Typecasting: A detective asks Frank, “You’re the guy from the bus, huh? Haven’t been beating up anyone else, have you?” “I’m really not a violent guy,” he says. The next scene, he beats up three guys trying to hold up a corner store and tells another cop buddy “violence seems to follow me.”
Best Guy to Assess the Plot: “Yeah, Charles Bronson, I get it,” says Officer Malark (Patrick Fabian, aka Jimmy’s nemesis Howard in Better Call Saul) in response and “They say you’ve been leaving a bloody trail all across the city.”
Best Display of Knowledge and Absolute Wisdom About Everything: This pawn shop guy Frank (Duane Whitaker, who played the pawn shop owner in Pulp Fiction and had roles in TCM 3 as well as in Feast) goes to can tell the make and model of the gun used to kill Klondike from one round — “it’s government issued, armed-forces s—t” and tells him who one of the suspects in his pal’s murder is and where he lives, then warns him, “Hey, man, be careful. There’s a lot of f—— idiots out there.”
Best Fight: The fight Frank has with three buff basketball players is good, where he kicks a basketball into one of the guys’ gazebos, then punches out the two others, then throws up an airball. Same goes for the one where he kicks a guy in a priest costume in the gazebos. But we have to go with the fight with Churchill (Tyler Tuione), this weird big Oddjob-looking guy who has a European accent who grabs Frank in a bearhug and has to explain what a flash drive is.
Best Interrogation Technique: When Frank mangles this guy’s left hand in a garbage disposal and says “We’re really f—— up your girl’s kitchen,” and “Thanks for giving me a hand. I hope you’re all right.”
Second-best method of Interrogation: Panther (Charles S. Dutton) explains what a flash drive is and then hooks up Frank’s nipples to a car battery and zaps enough voltage to kill a bull elephant through the battery clamps, but Frank went through that in Nam, so he has a resistance to electrocution. However, when they are about to hook the jumper cables up to Frank’s gazebos, he gets loose and napalms the warehouse with a book of matches.
Best Sidekick: A foul-mouthed neighbor kid (John Duffy) provides the needed link for Frank to figure out the technology side of things in his quest for justice to blow the lid off the political corruption.
Best Way for a Ranting Emoji-Averse Politician Seeking Re-election to Deal With a Political Mess: When Mayor Williams (Ron Perlman) rips on aide Panther, who was in charge of the guys who killed Klondike, he tells him “Now we got this f—— geriatric running around kicking everybody’s asses.” and “Enough with the long text messages and what’s up with those f—— happy faces? I hate that s—.”
Four stars. There’s blood, breasts and Danny Trejo’s a beast as well as some profanity and some Gary Coleman jokes in it.
Bad Ass is available for streaming on the Roku Channel for free and on a number of streaming sources as well, or you can get the physical media. The flick inspired a pair of sequels as well and if you want to see what Danny Trejo AND Danny “I’m too old for this s—“ Glover do in a couple of Bronson-style action team-ups, you can check those out as well.
Feliz cumpleanos, Senor Trejo!