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Film faulty but effective tribute to dad

Docudrama details life of film pioneer

SHARE Film faulty but effective tribute to dad

BAADASSSSS! — *** — Mario Van Peebles, Khleo Thomas; rated R (profanity, nudity, sex, drugs, violence, racial epithets, vulgarity).

The story that inspired "Baadasssss!" might have been told better in documentary form; that way filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles could relay it in his own words.

Instead, it's a docudrama, with actors pretending to be people who are, or were, "in the know" answering questions that are posed to them. It's a faulty format, but as far as these things go, the film has its effective moments. Besides, it's clear this was a labor of love for Van Peebles' son, Mario Van Peebles, who directed and who plays his father in this fictionalized version.

It succeeds in one very important aspect: It makes you want to see the original movie that spawned it. If only that film were readily available (ironically, its soundtrack — done by pre-stardom Earth, Wind & Fire — is easier to find than the movie itself).

The original film is the elder Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song," the top-grossing independently made film in 1971. It was probably responsible for the whole "blaxploitation" genre that followed.

Making that film certainly wasn't easy. At the time, Van Peebles was coming off the studio-produced hit "The Watermelon Man," and he had a three-picture deal. However, he wanted to do something more personal, something that was more of a statement, which was virtually impossible in then mostly white Hollywood.

So he decided to produce his film independently, calling on favors from friends and leading to several fights, including one with the Screen Actors Guild. And then there was the problem of distribution and exhibition once the movie was finished.

This version of the story doesn't get into the details, which may be for the best.

It's not always the most flattering of portraits, as the older Van Peebles is shown as a somewhat harsh and sometimes derelict father (Khleo Thomas is a standout as the young version of Mario).

That warts-and-all approach works, though, and the occasional humorous moment helps lighten things up when needed.

"Baadasssss!" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, racial epithets and crude sexual slang terms, full female and some male nudity, simulated sex and other sexual contact, drug content (marijuana use and references) and violence. Running time: 109 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com