What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting
I know the first one is based on that one viral video I never watched about an old guy who beat somebody up on a bus. The way people tell it, the old guy in question was defending somebody else and punched out a kid half (or even a third) his age, so naturally the Internet thought he was some amazing hero. But I could swear I read somewhere that the dude was actually an asshole who was shoving people around and the video was taken out of context so that he looks more like a "defender of justice" rather than just a violent dickweed. Also, wasn't the guy he beat up also a senior citizen? I don't know. I don't watch viral videos that much.
Anyway, some suit in Hollywood heard about this and decided to adapt it to a movie. Insert your own joke here about how his next movie is about a kitten with a bowtie playing a piano.
I assumed that Bad-Ass was basically just Falling Down with Danny Trejo instead of Michael Douglas, which actually sounds like a pretty amazing movie. The sequel would be more of the same, but with Danny Glover coming in as Trejo's sidekick. So, basically, I was expecting something angry, cynical, and violent.
The Plot Summary
Danny Trejo is an old guy. This is important - he is old. The movie would like you to know that his age is, by most common interpretations, old, and as a result, he is an old guy. This is very funny, you see, because old people are older than you.
Danny Glover is also an old guy. They are old together, and much amusement results.
While they're being old, Trejo runs a boxing school where he coaches various at-risk youth. One of his boxers is murdered coldly by some drug-dealing gangsters. Trejo decides to investigate and get revenge, and Glover decides to help him.
Along the way, they oldly punch various stereotypes and make friends with the murdered kid's mom and kid sister. Then the mom and sister get kidnapped by the bad guys, but old Trejo and old Glover rescue them and kill the bad guys. Nobody gets any younger, but many folks get significantly deader.
What I Liked
Despite constantly starring in some of the worst movies made today, the aging Dannies are both charismatic dudes who are always watchable. No matter how bad this movie got, I have to admit: I liked Trejo and Glover, and I enjoyed their chemistry together.
They alone are a beacon of hope. By the end, I can't say I wanted a Bad-Ass 3, but I did want more of the two of these guys. Maybe they can work together again in some different R-rated action comedy sometime? Give them a better script and you've got a winner.
What I Didn't Like
Aside from the overall predictability, I just really didn't care for the general unfunniness of the film. Bad-Asses is one of those movies that assumes its subject matter is so intrinsically hilarious that it doesn't bother to form actual jokes 90% of the time - it just has its two stars looking at the camera and finding new ways to say, "We're old," and then it assumes you'll laugh. But just being old isn't a joke.
Actually, this is very much like my complaints about the prison rape "joke" in A Haunted House 2. Both are forms of lazy comedy and both assume the topic at hand will make you laugh for reasons I can't comprehend. Why is it supposed to be funny that we see Danny Trejo drinking Benefiber? Benefiber is good for you. I'm only 31, and I use it sometimes. It could be in a joke, I guess, but my point is that I don't immediately start laughing my ass off when I unscrew the lid.
Who really finds something like that funny just because it exists? Guys, if you find Benefiber funny, you live a sheltered life. What else makes you laugh? Do you collapse in a fit of hysterics every time you wipe your ass? ("Hahahaha I'm putting the toilet paper on my butt now hahahahahahahahahahahah I hope the guy in the stall next door is enjoying this as much as me hahahahahahahahahahaha!")
The humor is so PG and safe that it pulls the whole movie down to a weirdly vanilla level. If you're making an R-rated movie about two crotchety old guys who beat people up, you might as well give them some edge and make it memorable. Turn them into horribly maladjusted guys who hate the world and feel like they're not getting the respect they deserve. Put some anger in there.
At one point, Trejo gives a speech to his boxing trainees about how drugs are for losers, for Christ's sake. That's literally a scene from an after school special. I thought I was supposed to be watching a movie about badasses. "Badass" is just a grumpier, harder-edged version of "cool," and all "cool" means is that you live your life with style and grace without giving a shit about what other people think. It's a form of confidence - not a morality lesson.
In this sense, I think the one quasi-joke that actually does play is that Trejo wears a fanny-pack most of the time. A true badass would wear the shit out of that fanny pack. (He also plays with dolls with a little girl, and that's just plain charming.) When the movie taps into that concept of "badass," it almost works - but whenever it turns back into a generic action flick with lame jokes, I just stop caring.
Would I Recommend It?
Nah. I can't think of the right audience that would want to see it.
I would say something like, "Bad-Asses is to action what Last Vegas is to comedy," but that's not accurate - the tone is all wrong. Last Vegas is a wafer-thin movie with a lot of inoffensive jokes that play broadly. It's meant to appeal to folks who want to see aging stars goofing off, and in that respect, Bad-Asses is very much the same. I can appreciate that and there definitely is a crowd who would enjoy that kind of movie.
...but Bad-Asses is also horribly violent at times and desperately wants to be gritty. The type of people who would enjoy the banality of Last Vegas are not the same type of people who want to see Danny Trejo gouge somebody's eye out while calling him a pussy. So it ends up being this weird movie that's too edgy to play to a softer crowd, and too soft to play to action fans.
What I Think the Prequel Was About
The opening credits featured a brief sequence explaining that Danny Trejo became an honorary cop somehow, so I imagine that was the whole crux of the first one. I guess Trejo beats up the guy on the bus, becomes a cop, uncovers a web of deceit and corruption on the force, beats up the corrupt cops, and then resigns in disgust.
...and then opens a boxing school? How does that follow?
Maybe he ran the school the whole time in the first one, and he briefly left it to be a cop, and the movie ends with him training some kids when his former captain visits and says, "Please, Vega, we need you to be a cop again," and then Trejo does that cliche thing where he sneers and goes, "Take that badge and shove it up your ass. I'm a coach."
My Pitch for the Next One
How about this: Trejo breaks a hip while trying to enact some vigilante justice against some organized crime lord. Since he's physically unable to actually beat people up, he has to rely on his brains and strategy instead. So he spends the rest of the movie in a more contemplative state as he stalks his target and carefully thinks about how he's going to kill him. It would be this really dark and ominous meditation on revenge and malice where Trejo has time to truly appreciate the monster he's turning into.