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Maybe Not Kick-Ass, but Not Kicked Either

Movie Title: Kick-Ass (2010)
Spoilers: none

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At some point in our lives, we each want to be a superhero. That is the (undeniably true) premise behind the movie about an unlikely and highly inept superhero that almost was. Aaron Johnson is “Dave Lizewski,” or as he later becomes known “Kick-Ass,” an ordinary kid with a high sex drive and nothing distinguishing him from a normal guy, perhaps except for a strong interest in comics and an imagination amped up a few notches.

If he were real, you might think Dave has some mental problems. I wouldn't stop you from making that assumption since I'm no psychologist. It's one thing to want to be a superhero; it's another to dress up like one and carry around batons in broad daylight...some screws have got to be loose. Openly carrying around weapons can get you in plenty of legal trouble. He nearly leaps to a certain death very early on in his enfeebled crime-fighting career, and he can't even stop two daylight car thieves armed with a pocketknife.

But that isn't the train of thought some of us have. Some of us are asking, where is this kid's dad? Why isn't he involved in his son's life? And how does the kid buy $99 costumes to live out his fantasies? Regardless, he has a lot to learn about crime fighting. He needs help—and help he gets from two equally matching oddballs. These two are a father/daughter team, “Hit-Girl” and “Big Daddy” (Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage)…but with competence, a quality Kick-Ass lacks.

It’s like a less intelligent Gotham City...wicked mob bosses, street thugs (mighty stupid street thugs who stick around after repeatedly committing misdemeanors in plain view), and other featured attractions that come rolling in on the cliché cart, like kids that use the word “totally” to sound yet more airy than we already know they are, street punks straight out of Deathwish III, and crime lords who look as harmless as New York brokers who always try extra hard to act secretive about their “business” (can't ask about their “business,” you know, but hey, at least they didn't try to imitate an Italian accent).

The movie treats death like a slinky. Dave's mother bizarrely dies towards the beginning and nothing is made of it. The mob throws people in large-sized microwaves and vigilantes kill mobsters in car-crushers and it's a total joke just for the joke's sake. Fingers are cut off by mobsters with rusty hedge clippers. Har, har, goes director Matthew Vaughn.

I’m guessing he would bet a horse racing ticket or two that the audience was laughing as hard as he was on the set with every next exploding wave of blood. I'd take that bet. I wasn't laughing...or cheering. I was wondering where all this pint-up rage was coming from and why it was being ejected onto the screen in the form of no-selling comedy.

Everyone cusses an awful lot, way too much, and often at the wrong times. The kids cuss too—and merely for the inflammatory purpose of pissing off the status quo. Nothing spells “we revel in our decadent sin!” like a fallen angel of a child using adult language. And here, everyone cusses just to sound tougher. Doesn't work, but they do it. “Cocksucker” is the word of choice. You – the viewer – play along, waiting for it to be funny, but it never brings more than a chuckle. 

When Kick-Ass and the Big Daddy/Hit-Girl team join forces, then begins the towering stunts of lunacy that even a faint superhero child's fantasy cannot abide. No, I'm wrong. The real gamble began the moment this movie was given the green light for production. The risk that audiences would trash the theaters was a real one! Still is, but it's quickly finding a sizable audience, more so than at first thought.

There are so many flaws in this movie that it's not even possible to address them in an article under 3,000 words, but more often than not, you want to like it, even as it becomes less and less innocent and unlikely the further in you go. Inordinately bloody, putting-off-ly profane, and cyclically inconsistent – dark, then comical, then cute, then dark again, etc – there are some serious problems here. Still, I wanted to like it.

The fight scenes are fantastically gratuitous. And the audience for this film is hard to identify since it's too bloody and too dirty for the young, but the adults don't want to see an 11-year-old beating mobsters in gunfights, or wimpy kids in red, driving tricked-out Mustangs and calling themselves “Red Mist” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). 

But the lifting and reversal of Spiderman's line: “With no power comes no responsibility” was a sly move and shows us the purpose of the film before it is lost in the gummed-up pipeline of the writing. By negating Spiderman's line and then refuting it, you know Kick-Ass is going to do his darndest to be a superhero, one way or the other. Johnson was a nice choice to serve as a type of satirizing “anti-Spiderman,” complete with a shaky, unattained romantic interest on the side. No way I was going to fail to appreciate that.

There are many cleverly introduced comic book-style story elements here, with one good twist at the ending and several getting there. I'll admit that I was entertained by the whole silly shebang. And pretty inept people have done great things. History is full of them. That almost makes you want to sympathize with the effort. And I'll admit, I do. I feel for this bruiser.

The movie has an easily spot-able, if muddled, message: breaking the law and being a hero both suck. When you have something to live for, something to lose, you value life differently. You see things differently. That is as true as the movie's initial premise. Life takes on a new meaning when life is good. Let the heroes be few.

But not all is well in Kick-Ass-ville because the entire picture proceeds to have two unlikely, young heroes go on to do the impossible—a thing the audience is imaginatively being told not to expect to be able to do or even attempt. This is a monstrosity, a117-minute contradiction that kicks superheroes in the teeth and looks halfway good doing so.

What do we have in Kick-Ass? Not a kick-ass movie by any means, but an entertaining and definitely not boring adventure. Cinema rebels, non-conformists, movie junkies, and cult classic seekers may step forward to give this one a look. All else beware.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for language, gore, suggestive sexual innuendos, and violence)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Summary: Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, with no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so.
Starring: Aaron Johnson "Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass," Garrett M. Brown "Mr. Lizewski," Clark Duke "Marty," Evan Peters "Todd," Deborah Twiss "Mrs. Zane," Lyndsy Fonseca "Katie Deauxma," Sophie Wu "Erika Cho," Elizabeth McGovern "Mrs. Lizewski," Christopher Mintz-Plasse "Chris D'Amico / Red Mist," Chloe Moretz "Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl," Nicolas Cage "Damon Macready / Big Daddy"
Genre: Action / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Thriller
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