Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mario Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, T.K. Carter, Terry Crews, Nia Long, Paul Rodriquez, Saul Rubinek, Khleo Thomas, riann Wilson, Karimah Westbrook, Vincent Schiavelli
Written by: Mario Van Peebles, Dennis Haggerty, based on a book by Melvin Van Peebles
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some strong sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 108
Date: 09/07/2003

Baadasssss! (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sweetback and Lowdown

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on his father's published diary, Mario Van Peebles's new film Baadasssss! tells the story behind the making of Melvin's 1971 landmark African-American film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. In the granddaddy of casting coups, Mario plays Melvin, going through hell and back to get his film finished. He borrows money from everyone (including Bill Cosby, played here by T.K. Carter), makes plenty of enemies, nearly alienates his son and almost goes blind. Mario can only guess how his father felt when it came to the pressures of making the film, but in the scenes between Melvin and young Mario, he understands everything. Melvin adopts a "tough love" approach to raising his kids and his utter cruelty toward Mario is shocking, especially watching the now-grown Mario re-enacting these episodes and taking the side of his former aggressor. Baadasssss! paints a fascinating portrait of a major development in film history, but it also brings to mind Mario's lively directorial debut New Jack City (1991). It's easier now to understand exactly what Mario took from his father, an unbeatable passion and an unbreakable spirit.

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