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“Kick-Ass” does — and boldly

Imagine what will happen when Hit Girl's (Chloe Moretz) pesky teen hormones kick in.

“With no power comes no responsibility.” You jonesing for a pretty little gift-wrapped theme? Well, that’s as close as “Kick-Ass,” adapted from Mark Millar’s comic book series, comes to providing one. Because Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” is not a film with a stately message about heroism. It is anarchy — ironic, lurid, violent, profane anarchy. One of the toughest characters, for example, is a preteen (Chloe Grace Moretz) who gets soundly thrashed by grown men triple her age. But don’t go crying for Hit Girl or she’ll punch you in the jugular and then call you the “P-word,” or, if she’s really irked, the “C-word.”

That’s just a taste of what “Kick-Ass” serves up, and more accurate one than the promos illustrate. So intently does the trailer play down the level of violence that when it happens on screen, it’s twice as stupefying, since “Kick-Ass” is billed as a hipper, younger, more-action-less-quips “Mystery Men.” (Probably the production company realized few people would flood Fandango with debit card numbers for tickets to see kids — including a pig-tailed 11-year-old girl — get beaten senseless by adults.) This movie earns every inch of that “R” rating with shootouts and brutal beatings and knife fights and enough swearing to make dockworkers blush. The fact that it’s mostly the “impressionable ones” doing the cursing will have some whipping out their soap boxes and dusting off those megaphones. But, as the morality police often do, they’ll miss the point. The point is there is no point. “Kick-Ass” is all about flash, and you can’t have flash with heroes running around, capes billowing in the wind, running into a wall and saying “oh, fudge.”

However, “Kick-Ass” contains a fair amount of such blunders, most of them made by Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, perfectly cast), who’s nobody special and is self-aware enough to know that. He pals around with fellow comic book fans Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters), pines for the hot It girl (Lyndsy Fonseca) he knows he’ll never have because he’s invisible to her, and then because she thinks he’s gay. Almost on a whim Dave decides to change his fate by inventing a heroic alter ego named Kick-Ass, a guy with a sporty aquamarine costume and absolutely zero superpowers. The first time out is rough (he gets stabbed and hit by a car) and the second attempt isn’t much better, but camera phones capture the fight and soon Kick-Ass is viral vid sensation. His perseverance is dumb but a little noble, even admirable, and he coaxes other burgeoning heroes out of hiding, including Hit Girl (I love Chloe Moretz more in every film) and her father Damon (Nicholas Cage), who calls himself “Big Daddy” and dons his best Batman-knockoff, and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of a local mafioso-type (Mark Strong) who proves to be Kick-Ass and his crew’s most formidable enemy. Together, they’re quite the amusing yet halfway capable gaggle of misfits.

Speaking of “amusing”: The trailer also promotes “Kick-Ass” as a barrel of laughs. It isn’t, though that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have its moments. The jokes, when they crop up (usually in the form of offhand comments), are quite funny, with Cage and Moretz playing against expectations of how a father/daughter hero team might act. (His response to her sarcastic request for a puppy instead of a knife: “Oh, child … You always knock me for a loop!”) The “we don’t need no stinkin’ superpowers” angle also tickles the funny bone because it’s used just often enough. Two of the best throwaway moments involve Red Mist leaping off a dumpster (“oh shit, that kind of hurt”) and Kick-Ass’s question of how to find Hit Girl. Her sarcasm is blistering: “You just contact the mayor’s office. He has a special signal he shines in the sky; it’s in the shape of a giant cock!” Kids today, they way they talk.

Just released, this adaptation has courted controversy already for the reasons above. With its unrepentant brutality and language and fearless approach, “Kick-Ass” isn’t for the righteously indignant crowd. For everyone else? It’s damn fun chaos. Somebody pass me the weird-sounding Bazooka.

Grade: B+

7 Responses

  1. That was my favorite line.

  2. I’m not sure that extremely violent kids are the way forward. I haven’t seen the movie because the preview just somehow suggests that this movie just wants to be new and shocking. I usually don’t have a problem with violence in movies (although its not something that I’m interested in watching in general) but kids being violent just doesn’t seem right…maybe I’m just being conservative though 😉

    • I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily pro-violence for the 11-18 set, but sometimes I think it’s refreshing when directors don’t pull punches in that respect. Plus, these actors read the scripts; they knew what they were getting into. All the press about Chloe Moretz saying the “C-word” bugs me for that reason.

      And I won’t say I didn’t flinch when Hit Girl was getting beaten up. I’m not that densensitized, and I truly hope I never am! 🙂

      • See, I think the film does pull its punches, albeit not in the sense of its violence. I think it introduces a number of issues — the price of being a hero in a terrifying modern world, the nature of revenge, even a demented take on the way that parents live out their failed lives vicariously through their children — and then ignores them in its desperate attempt to be stupid.

        Millar’s comic wasn’t exactly Watchmen-esque in its deconstruction of the superhero image via normal people trying to be heroes, but it at least succeeded in being the subversive ride that people are mistakenly attributing to this unabashedly dumb and poorly planned Matrix/Guy Ritchie stylistic rip-off. It pulls its punches by moving close to an emotional breakthrough that would give its ultraviolence — which has been overstated by both its fans and its decline-of-Western-civilization crying detractors — any form of context that would actually make it offensive. As it is, it’s all too meaningless to be anything but dull to me.

  3. I can’t wait to see this one but I’m feeling severely bogged down lately. This could be just the refreshing bash to the groin region I need!

    • @ Jake — Someday you have to become an English or philosophy professor. Seriously. If it’s English, I could see you making literary theory (against all odds) interesting. It would be a huge loss to both professions if you didn’t!

      You gave me something to think about besides the violence. The “vicarious living” angle makes the Damon/Mindy story that much weirder and darker.

      @ Film Reel — If you go in expecting the movie to be like the trailer touted it, which I did, the surprise will certainly feel like a knee to the family jewels. But probably it won’t shock you, since you’re into all that “horror stuff.” 🙂

      • Oh, I could never become a philosopher. I have such a hard time reading philosophy; it’s all in the realm of the hypothetical, and usually written in the more obtuse style of older English, even when translated. I actually learn more about philosophies and theories through film, when they are married to action which I can process, than as a big what-if? in prose. It’s one of my great embarrassments that I have such difficulty with philosophy.

        As for the film, I really have a hard time thinking about the BD/HG angle as anything but a sadistic take on beauty pageants. I mentioned to a friend and said that he never thought about it but agreed with me. I’m surprised that I’m the only person I’ve spoken to who’s seen that because I’m the last person to hit upon a novel idea. It’s probably wrong, then.

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