Kick-Ass (2010)

22 Aug

Spoiler alert! She's the best thing in the movie!

If you’re going to take the step of naming your movie after a popular adjective, you should probably also take steps to ensure that your movie lives up to said adjective. Too often in the case of “Kick-Ass,” it does not.

“Kick-Ass” tells the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-reading high schooler who is increasingly bothered by the indifferent attitude people adopt toward crime, injustice and other forms of no-goodnik-ness. Lizewski fashions himself a spandexy superhero costume and sets out to right wrongs as Kick-Ass. His first time out, he’s beaten to a pulp. Luckily for him, this imbues him with some low-level super powers, as his nerve endings are damaged and every bone in his body is reinforced with steel. He tries his hand again, this time with success. Kick-Ass becomes a Youtube celebrity and a Myspace superstar, with fans e-mailing him their problems in hopes of help.

Meanwhile in a parallel storyline, Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) is training daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) in weaponry, martial arts and the delicate challenge of taking a bullet while wearing a flak jacket. They live in a weapons bunker, waiting for the day when Macready can avenge the loss of his job and the loss of his wife at the hands of drug kingpin Frank D’Amico. It’s not long before Kick-Ass runs into too much trouble to handle while Big Daddy (the elder Macready) and Hit Girl (scene stealer extraordinaire) are working through low level drug dealers to get to D’Amico. Hit Girl saves Kick-Ass’s, um, hide, and an uneasy truce is forged.

D’Amico quickly realizes Kick-Ass is a threat and tries several times to have him taken out. His son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) comes up with a plan straight from the comics he also adores. He becomes Red Mist, ultimately betraying Kick-Ass’s trust, an action that sets up an ultimate showdown between superheroes and supervillains.

Where “Kick-Ass” really goes wrong is by making the movie about Kick-Ass. The titular character is pretty boring most of the time. A great deal of the film follows him around at school, while he’s “training,” and through a cheesy she-thinks-I’m-gay-but-I’m-really-not subplot. His action sequences are largely lackluster, and Johnson just doesn’t have enough charisma to really grab the audience or make us care much about Kick-Ass. I also question the decision to make the main character so young and so immature in an R-rated movie. Even accounting for the under-25 portion of the audience that could possibly identify with Lizewski, that still leaves a whole lot of potential audience that may be turned off by the flatness of the character.

The most interesting storyline and most interesting characters in the film are the Macreadys. Their backstory is compelling, their interaction with each other is splendid, and their motivation is far more believable as a real reason to risk life and limb fighting criminals. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t about them and includes them only tangentially. Too bad, because every time Hit Girl is on screen, you wish she was the star of the film.

That's your protagonist in the middle there. Doesn't he seem riveting?

The film has one foot in gritty realism and the other in surreal, cartoonish violence, and that’s a hard line to straddle. “Kick-Ass” is far too serious in parts and far too light-hearted in others. The movie teases the idea of real consequences to the vigilante superheroes’ actions, but never delivers on them. In one particularly ridiculous sequence, a group of police officers sit around and watch as a Kick-Ass altercation is broadcast live on the Internet. They don’t seem too worried about the laws being broken, but then they’re not concerned with masked vigilante crusaders taking over their town either. This film can’t decide what it wants to be, and the whole thing comes off feeling very amateurish for director Matthew Vaughn.

The overuse of current technology dates “Kick-Ass” right out of the gate. In fact, it was dated before it was even released by its heavy reliance on Myspace. There are several throwaway pop culture references that are jarring even just a few months after the movie’s theater release. (“Kick-Ass” came out on DVD earlier this week.) For me, it is a flaw when a film is so obviously concerned with being hip that it sacrifices any hope of longevity or future relevance. I can’t see people watching “Kick-Ass” three years from now and finding it fresh.

For all its flaws, though, “Kick-Ass” does have one saving grace: The unstoppable ferocity of Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. She slices through the shoddy storytelling and lazy acting mercilessly, upstaging nearly everyone (Cage hangs in pretty well), and providing a bit of redemption for the film as a whole. The final sequences of the big showdown in D’Amico central are giddy fun thanks to her. She provides the only real emotion in the film and displays a sense for both comedic and dramatic timing that is impressive for such a young actress. Her action sequences, which should be the most unbelievable portions of the film, come off with weight thanks to her formidable performance. And said sequences, while heavily indebted to John Woo, are good gory fun, but by the time this final showdown plays out it’s too little, too late.

In an epilogue-y voiceover, “Kick-Ass” tips its hand at a sequel. Let’s hope everyone involved can grow up a little between now and then. One-and-a-half stars out of four.

‘Kick-Ass”: Rated R. Starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Omari Hardwick and Xander Berkeley. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn from the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Cinematography by Ben Davis and Mac Kenny. Original music by Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman and John Murphy.

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