Baadasssss! Movie Review
The film, based mainly on Melvin Van Peeples' book about making the film, illustrates many of the difficulties that plagued it; from financial troubles and crew infighting, to the demanding logistics of the shoot and family dilemmas, all of which made the entire production nearly fall apart.
Mario portrays Melvin - his father - as a hard working, committed man with a dream but also as a dictatorial tyrant who sacrifices anyone and everyone to get his film made. Yet, despite Melvin's nastiness, he and his ideas are respected enough by the crew that they remain loyal.
As Mario presents it, the film becomes a minor sacrifice compared to the greater struggles that black people suffered at the hands of the white establishment for so long. Because of this, it seems no setback was worth worrying about. When part of the crew ends up in jail, Melvin leaves them there over the weekend not only because he doesn't have the money to bail them out but because to him it is a mere inconvenience that he can deal with in a couple of days. Even when Melvin begins to lose sight in one eye due to stress and strain, he simply puts on an eyepatch and gets back to work.
The other primary actor in the film is Khleo Thomas, who plays Melvin's 13-year-old son (Mario, for those of you keeping score). Mario develops a fractious relationship with his father, which is not helped when Melvin insists that he do a butt naked sex scene with the woman who is playing his mother. Other actors include Rainn Wilson, who plays hippie production assistant Bill Harris, Paul Rodriguez as one of the crew members, Nia Long as Melvin's girlfriend, Joy Bryant as his assistant, and Ossie Davis as Melvin's father.
In order to give the film an authentic feel, Van Peeples intersperses interviews of the actors playing the cast and crew with the movie, a la American Splendor. The technique is done so well it seems as though it is unscripted and, in fact, the final screen credits show us more interview clips with the crew.
Baadasssss! is a film about artistic and personal sacrifices as well as political defiance and personal triumph against the white film world that has long dominated Hollywood. But it is also a well-made and entertaining film, full of some of the best scenes that Mario Van Peeples has ever directed. It is a better film actually than Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song but not as timely, not as political, and perhaps not as vital to black cinema - it also plays more into the hands of the white film world than Sweet Sweetback ever did - therefore it might make money but it ultimately will not make as much of a ripple in the film world.
Aka How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass, Gettin' the Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss!