In 1971, black actor and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles (Mario Van Peebles) sets about making his second film, on the heels of his comedy, Watermelon Man. But this time it's not comedy on his mind, but a gritty action thriller in which a bad ass black guy pays back the injustices of some corrupt and racist police. Impossible to finance - until Bill Cosby (T.K. Carter) agrees to stump up $50,000 - the film has to be made underground to avoid the unions, posing as a black porn movie. But that's just the start of the emotion-laden adventure in independent political filmmaking, as Van Peebles and his family stake all on a revolutionary film in which blacks are heroes.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If context gives us the whole truth, Baadasssss! is not only based on a true story, it IS the truth. The place and time of the events are as important as the how and what of them. Mario Van Peebles could be forgiven for telling the story of his remarkable father's astonishing achievement against the odds with a degree of bias - but no need. There is none; his old man looks just as candidly conflicted and loveable-hateable as anyone's.
This resiliant, dynamic film defies categories: it's not exactly a biopic, because it deals with one undertaking in a lifetime of doing things. It's not documentary, because the film's story is dramatised. It's not an action film, although there is plenty of that in it. Above all, perhaps, it's a piece of cultural history, told through cinema in a way that enables us to connect with the cause, the characters, the era and the big picture politics. It's a riveting work, full of humour, humanity and searing truths about racism, about family and about that combustible mixture that Van Peebles had in abundance. He was both reckless and caring, driven and scared.
Mario Van Peebles plays his own father with a combination of bravura and insight; insight uniquely acquired as the 13 year old son (impressive Khleo Thomas) who was there for the whole shooting match, even pushed into playing a role which included a scene where he loses his virginity. The entire cast fairly jumps off the screen. But the overwhelming feeling the film generates is not one of hero worship, but one of understanding. Mario has painstakingly reassembled the events into a Making Of dramatisation that draws us in, informs us, moves us and astounds us with the improbability of his father's undertaking coming off at all.
Of course, that's what makes it great cinema: the classic, universal elements are visible just under the surface, and the cinematic style is vibrantly exciting. It's a political film, but Van Peebles no longer has to prove anything so there is no bombast or preaching. It is what it is, as old Van P might say.
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MARIO VAN PEEBLES INTERVIEW
Aka Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song
CAST: Mario Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, T. K. Carter, Terry Crew, Khleo Thomas, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, Nia Long, Paul Rodriguez, Saul Rubinek
PRODUCER: Mario Van Peebles
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
SCRIPT: Mario Van Peebles, Dennis Haggerty (book by Melvin Van Peebles)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Primes
EDITOR: Nneka Goforth, Anthony Miller
MUSIC: Tyler Bates
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alan A. Muraoka
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Imagine Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2005