April 22, 2010

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Kick-Ass (R)
A geek with a dream and a potty-mouthed little girl strike fear into the hearts of criminals in Kick-Ass, a superhero movie for the superhero connoisseur.

Dave (Aaron Johnson) is your average geek, geeking it up at the comic book store with his friends Todd (Evan Peters) and Marty (the wonderful Clark Duke). Dave wonders about all those superheroes he reads about. He wonders why no one has ever tried to do a little superheroing themselves. And, with the help of a wet suit and some fighting batons, he decides to give it a go.

Kick-Ass is what he calls himself — out there trying to fight crime but more often getting his butt pretty thoroughly kicked. But his alter ego catches on with the hero-starved public and they start to friend his Facebook page and ask him to help them. And, he soon realizes, he’s not alone. When his attempts to impress Katie (Lyndsay Fonseca), the girl for whom he unrequitedly lusts, get him nearly killed, he is saved by the foul-mouthed, exceptionally violent Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz, 13) and her probably insane-with-vengeance (and also insane-with-insanity) father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a.k.a. Mindy and Damon Macready. They are taking it to mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) — hardcore, with brutal violence, pervasive language, et al. from the MPAA warning — and Kick-Ass has unwittingly provided them some cover for their more secretive vigilantism. And then there’s Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), another geek who decides to get into the masked man business.

Like a good “who would win in a fight — Superman or Batman, Kirk or Picard” discussion, Kick-Ass is a movie for the meta-loving super-geek but it is also accessible by the causal superhero movie fan. It gets at the heart of some of the superhero tropes — the quest for vengeance, the costumed do-gooder, the beating-up-of but not murder-of bad guys — and examines them a bit. What does an actual vengeance-seeking, outside-the-law masked man look like? What would happen if a doughy geek put on a pair of tights? The movie plays with these ideas, dissects some, takes others to their extremes, turns others on their head. This isn’t a graduate-level course on the psychology of comics (and, gaaah, what a buzzkill that would be) but it’s a bit of fun with the genre, particularly when it comes to the blood-thirsty, questionable-morality-having Macreadys.

And, yes, the little girl swears, a lot, and kills people. And yes, it is quite the thing — if not disturbing, exactly, then “wait-a-minute”-ing in the middle of a red-splatter-filled cartoon violence sequence. It makes you pay attention to the killing a bit more — which is either the point or a nice byproduct.

Not that the movie doesn’t have plenty of cartoony violence unimpeded by reflection. In addition to maybe being smarter than it looks, Kick-Ass is also a good time filled with lots of smirky, chummy, we-all-know-what’s-supposed-to-happen-here laughs. It’s a thoughtful pause before we enter the big, explosion-filled ass-kicking summer season — a thoughtful pause with bazookas. B

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use — some involving children. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaugh (from the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.), Kick-Ass is an hour and 57 minutes long and distributed by Lionsgate.