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
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!
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...