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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+

Cusack’s a downer in likable “Hot Tub Time Machine”

Look, John -- even ROB CORDDRY can't believe you're in this movie!

The funniest thing about “Hot Tub Time Machine” is John Cusack — not because he says or does anything all that funny, but because he wears a look of fish-out-of-water bewilderment that’s uncomfortably hysterical. It is the astonished, slightly ashamed look of a man who went against everything his gut, his head, even that sardonic little shoulder angel (you know John Cusack’s shoulder angel is pithy) told him and took a part in this preposterous, occasionally hilarious movie anyway. As shocked as you are to watch this movie and see him in it, he’s all the more shocked to be in it.

Why Cusack chose this part should be a mystery to his fans (note: I’ve been one back since the “Tapeheads” and cameo in “Bob Roberts” days). Maybe, doubling back to his “Con Air” era, he wanted to make a “smart business decision” (i.e., cash). It’s also not unheard of that he’d want to stretch his wings, like he did with “Grace Is Gone,” only this time try his hand at a randy, grown-up dudecom. Whatever the reasoning, the choice was a bad one because Cusack can’t unwind and enjoy himself. He’s basically a rampaging buzzkill — not a straight man, but a buzzkill. Everyone else in “Hot Tub Time Machine” seems to know the score, know this is loopy fun and not much else. Cusack doesn’t. And it’s not a good sign when Crispin “Creepy Thin Man” Glover is having more fun than anyone.  

Cusack’s apparent discomfort, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate that “Hot Tub Time Machine” is a downer or a waste of time — far from it. Steve Pink’s light-hearted screwball buddy comedy delivers most of the laughs it promises thanks to Rob Corddry, who can’t be accused of not diving into every part with equine energy, and Clark Duke, enough a student of the Michael Cera School of Comedy to temper Corddry’s manic turns. Duke, Corddry, Craig Robinson and Cusack, an odd quartet any day of the week, find themselves in the very situation the movie’s title lays out. Adam (Cusack) and Nick (Robinson) have crumbling romantic lives. Jacob (Duke), Adam’s nephew, spends all his time playing “Second Life” in his uncle’s basement. They are paragons of stability next to Lou (Rob “I’m growin’ out my bangs” Corddry), an alcoholic whose latest stunt may have been a suicide attempt. No one’s quite sure how to handle the situation, so the gang heads back to the ski lodge where they spent their teen years … only to find the place deserted, as pitiful as they think their lives have become.

Enter the hot tub of the title, which turns out to be a time travel device. At first, the guys are in denial, though they can’t ignore guys “rockin’ cassette tape players” and Jeri-curl ‘dos. Michael Jackson being black should have been the tipoff, but Jacob is the voice of reason: “Do I really gotta be the asshole who says we got in this thing and went back in time?” Lines like these provide “Hot Tub Time Machine” with some zing, with Corddry stealing the best of them. (His idea to change the past to “prevent Miley Cyrus” belongs in the comedy time capsule.) The ’80s throwbacks (MTV! 10-pound cell phones! people snorting coke openly!) are a fun blast from the past, as are all laugh-at-not-with the decade jokes. Poor 1980s — you endorse a few bad ideas, like banana clips, jam shorts and leg warmers and people never let you forget it.

Ultimately, that’s what “Hot Tub Time Machine” amounts to: some laughs generated by ’80s jokes and the antics of Duke, Robinson and Corddry. There’s also a running gag about when the one-armed bellhop (Glover) of the future will lose his arm that doesn’t lose its appeal. It’s not as smart or raucous as the “The Hangover,” but it doesn’t try to be. In fact, the actors don’t try to do much of anything except run with the material. Though I do hope at least one of them took Cusack aside in-between takes to say: “Do I really gotta be the asshole who tells you this just isn’t your thing?”

Grade: B-