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Baadasssss!  (2004)


Rating: R

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 14, 2004
Review posted: September 16, 2004


Reviewed by Greg Malmborg




Baadasssss! is a tribute to a groundbreaking filmmaker from his son. Back in 1971, director Melvin Van Peebles struggled mightily to make what would become a landmark of independent black filmmaking, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, in which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. Sweetback told the story of a black street hustler turned revolutionary battling racist cops and it captured the anger and rage of the black community at the time. It became a huge success and launched the blaxploitation era of the 70s. 


Baadasssss! was written and directed by Melvin Van Peebles’ son, Mario, who also plays his father in the film. It depicts the struggles and obstacles that the elder Peebles had to overcome in order to get Sweetback made. From the conception of the story, everything was an uphill battle. From having to find independent financing from a stoned out hippie, to losing his financing, to having to recast the film, to having to hire a porn producer (David Alan Grier) to pretend they are making porn (to throw off the white unions). Everything and anything seemed to get in his way. The film follows the story from the initial conception of the film to the first screening, and focuses on the internal struggle of Van Peeples and his complete and utter determination to get the film made regardless of all the consequences. 




Baadasssss! is an immensely entertaining and fascinating film with a heartfelt and intense lead performance from Mario Van Peebles. The fascination lies in both the formidable perseverance and fearlessness of the elder Peebles to get this film made at all costs and the surreal comedy of the circumstances around each area of the production on the film. The ingenuity that was needed to get this film made is admirable and amazing. The passion that festered in the elder Van Peebles in making Sweetback has come full circle to his son in making Baadasssss!. Mario Van Peebles energetic vision is what makes the film such a success. He keeps the story moving, captures the style and liveliness of the era, and lets the struggle stand on its own rather than force anything down the viewers’ throats. 


Mario Van Peebles also surprises with an intense and charming lead performance as both his father and an off-screen version of Sweetback himself.  He has a strong screen presence and brings emotion and passion to his portrayal of his legendary father. There are some interesting scenes where Mario, playing his father, is interacting with the young Mario (who acted in Sweetback, playing Sweetback as a kid). The supporting cast is also quite strong. Joy Bryant, as Melvin’s secretary who is always auditioning for him so he’ll consider her for a part, is especially strong.  Alan Grier is a bit miscast as the porn producer, playing it up too campy in a film played fairly straight. But the rest of the cast is quite strong.


The script is especially good, one of the strongest on the struggles of filmmaking I’ve seen in a while. It truly captures the spirit of making films and the passion of everyone involved in making a film. Anyone interested in what it takes, both emotionally and creatively, to get an independent film off the ground should seek this film out. The dialogue is also quite good, never resorting to clichés or trying to make Melvin seem unreal. In fact, it finds just as many faults in Melvin as strong points, which provides an interesting and fascinating balance through the film. He’s like a dictator running over anyone in his way one minute and then the creative visionary with a good heart the next.


Baadasssss! is one of the best films of the year. It is consistently entertaining and captivating, with very strong directing, writing and acting from Mario Van Peebles. This is more than a fitting tribute to Melvin Van Peebles, it is a tribute to filmmaking and to the passion and dedication it takes to create something truly groundbreaking.




The transfer is quite clear and crisp; the colors are vibrant and lucid. It is a strong, quality video transfer.




The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it is outstandingly clear and crisp; the balance is quite perfect. 




Commentary with Mario and Melvin Van Peebles – This is a very informative and interesting commentary track, one of the best I’ve heard in some time. Both Mario and Melvin share their personal experiences in the making of both films and also are able to intelligently discuss both the technical aspects of making these films and what goes in to filmmaking in general. Both Mario and Melvin are great storytellers and are both very charming and interesting guys; which makes for a great commentary track.


The Birth of Black Cinema – This informative and captivating extra includes interviews with cast and crew (of both Baadasssss! and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) and some of the prominent figures in film (from Bill Cosby to Michael Mann to John Singleton) with their takes and personal views on both the rise of blaxploitation and what Melvin Van Peebles meant to this important movement. This is a terrific, insightful extra.


The Premiere – This is just a mix of interviews from the cast and crew and some notable others from the premiere of the film. This is a bit of a self-congratulatory piece, with most of the interviews are the actors saying how amazing Mario Van Peebles is. This is an unnecessary extra.


American Cinematheque Q&A with Melvin Van Peebles – This is a Q&A session with Melvin where he takes questions from a moderator in front of an audience and discusses his experiences with both the making of Sweetback and his views on Baadasssss!. Melvin is entertaining and funny (in a dry and sarcastic way) and he has some interesting takes on Mario’s film.




Baadasssss! is an exhilarating and fascinating ride through the turbulent and exciting times that Melvin Van Peebles had in making Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and his passion and dedication to get it made no matter what the cost. A film for anyone with a passion to create or a love of film. One of the best films of the year.




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