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BAADASSSSS! (R) (2003)

Showtime Networks, Inc.

Official Site

Director: Mario Van Peebles

Producers: Michael Mann, Jerry Offsay

Written by: Melvin Van Peebles (book); Mario van Peebles and Dennis Haggerty (screenplay)

Cast: Mario Van Peebles, Khleo Thomas, David Alan Grier, Rainn Wilson, Ossie Davis, Nia Long


While BAADASSSSS! happens to be a(nother) movie about how hard it is to make a movie, it’s more akin to American Splendor or Adaptation than Cecil B. Demented or Roman Coppola’s CQ. Mario Van Peebles plays his father, Melvin Van Peebles, working on his 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a predecessor to Shaft and Superfly and arguably the initial blueprint for the Blaxploitation genre. In the 1971 movie, Melvin stars as Sweetback, a pimp-turned-revolutionary on the run. BAADASSSSS! chronicles the controversy surrounding the film, Melvin’s subsequent decision to seek private funding, and all the resulting complications. As every imaginable disaster plagues Sweet Sweetback’s production, Melvin trudges on to create a film “dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man.”

Mario’s treatment of his project is fascinating, because he so heavily blurs the line between narrative fiction and documentary. Throughout the film, the dramatization of the events is interrupted by documentary-style interview vignettes, and this is where it most closely resembles American Splendor. The real-life subjects of the film are present along with the actors who portray them. Hence, Bill Cosby, who had a hand in funding Sweet Sweetback appears in the film as himself, but is also played by T.K. Carter in both the action of the film and some of the interview scenes—some very complicated postmodern shit, but Mario Van Peebles pulls it off beautifully.

Perhaps the most arresting feature of this movie is that it is both biography and autobiography. Mario explores his relationship with his father by playing his father’s role in the film, an experience which must have been bizarrely therapeutic. Their relationship is hardly conventional; Melvin’s kids call him by his first name, and he volunteers 13-year-old Mario (played by Khleo Thomas) for an acting role in the opening credits of Sweet Sweetback—in a sex scene. Khleo Thomas’ near-silent portrayal of the young Mario is perfectly subtle.

At times the dialogue is corny, and the film is longer than it should be, dragging heavily at the end, but overall these problems are minor. Mario Van Peebles may have borrowed minstrelsy-on-television footage straight out of Bamboozled, but BAADASSSSS! is a frankly a better movie. If anything, pay to see it for the virtue of its alternate title, How To Get The Man’s Foot Outta Your Ass!

—Leah Churner

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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