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Baadasssss! (June 22/04)

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles made a controversial film called Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song - the making of which is chronicled in Baadasssss!, a movie written and directed by Mario Van Peebles. It's perhaps the first time in cinematic history that a son has made a movie about his father's film, with the son actually playing the father. And though Van Peebles has retained some of his dad's stylistic choices - making this an ideal companion piece to the original - there's no denying that Baadasssss! is a much more involving and purely enjoyable movie.

The film combines the behind-the-scenes hijinks with onscreen interviews featuring the various performers in character, giving Baadasssss! the feel of a faux documentary. Melvin Van Peebles is a fledgling filmmaker trying to get his next project off the ground, a follow-up to a mildly successful movie called Watermelon Man (his debut). Though he's being encouraged to make a more mainstream picture, Melvin is more interested in a gritty story about a black man on the run. He eventually decides to finance the movie himself, and hires a non-union crew in order to involve more minorities in the shoot. Not surprisingly, Van Peebles encounters a whole host of problems - right through to the film's seemingly inauspicious premiere at a Detroit theater.

It's clear right from the start that Van Peebles has a real affection for this material, though he's not afraid to paint his father in a negative light. The elder Van Peebles is depicted as a driven, determined filmmaker who tends to put the making of his movie above the welfare of others - including his children. Aside from the creepy resemblance to his father, Mario does a fantastic job of portraying Melvin's cockiness and bravado; here's a guy that's positive he's going to make one of the greatest films of all time. Supporting roles are filled by equally talented performers, including Rainn Wilson as Van Peebles' right-hand man and Nia Long as his long-suffering girlfriend.

Baadasssss! is also an extremely effective look at the making of a film, and the movie does a nice job of detailing the various trials and tribulations involved in the production. Van Peebles doesn't sugarcoat things, with the end result a film that feels honest about what goes into crafting such a low-budget movie.

out of

© David Nusair