Friday, April 16, 2010

"Kick-Ass" (2010)

"Kick-Ass" earns its name by being exactly that: kick ass. But that's too easy. It is audacious, wild, relentless, questionably amoral and shameless with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Adapted from the 2008 comic book by Mark Millar ("Wanted"), this is an adaptation that wants to feels like it's still a comic book. It's also a superhero movie, but one that riffs on other superheroes and turns the genre right on its head. This third feature from director Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Stardust") plays off the formulas of the genre in dangerous ways, but in breaking away from convention Vaughn greatly succeeds thanks to an extremely risky but ultimately winning combination of innocence and splattering gore. And while the movie's title comes from the average teen who just wants to be a superhero, Dave (Aaron Johnson), the main attraction is the 11-year-old girl dishing out Tarantino-inspired styles of hyper violence.

Her name is Hit Girl, and she is like a miniature version of Uma Thurman's Bride from "Kill Bill." The point of controversy comes from the fact that this bite-sized avenger delivers the bulk of the movie's over-the-top violence as she plows through countless number of bad guys exterminating them in a fast-paced, insanely energetic fashion. It's close to impossible to be offended by all this, however, because of the absurd and hilarious delivery. Each violent showcase of Hit Girl is accompanied by a clever soundtrack and is purposely preposterous. Sporting a purple wig and a potty mouth, she is played by Chloe Grace Moretz of "(500) Days of Summer," and her startling performance will be remembered for years to come. She rightfully steals the movie and is the most badass female superhero we may have ever seen.

Dave wonders why someone hasn't tried to be a superhero earlier. Tired of his boring high school life, he buys a green and yellow-trimmed scuba suit off eBay to serve as his superhero costume. Even though he doesn't have any super powers, he goes out and tries to bust up some car hijackers. Like what would happen to any other ordinary teen wearing a silly costume, things don't go as planned. Still, though, carrying his pair of batons he gives it another go, and his exploits get recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Before he knows it, he is the next Internet sensation, and the masked hero associated with the name Kick-Ass becomes a legend. What makes Kick-Ass so endearing is that the movie never makes it easy for him, but it never mocks him either. The movie is remarkably embedded in reality as an honest and raunchy teen comedy like "Superbad" as Dave really just wants to get the attention of a gorgeous girl named Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) who thinks he is her gay best friend.

The initial plight of Dave is only the beginning of a plot that twists and turns into irreverence and cannot be described without giving too much away. There's an unruly mob boss (Mark Strong) who doesn't bother to keep his business separate from his family. This brings his nerdy son into the picture, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse of "Superbad" and "Role Models," who eventually dons the alter-ego of Red Mist. Mintz-Plasse's goofy demeanor and misplaced self-confidence, which he presents as a norm, fits well here. None of the characters have super powers, and so villains and heroes go head to head with guns, knives and real weapons. This is a twisted, distorted and fun-house mirror image of the world we live in.

Like Hit Girl, her father who taught her everything, Big Daddy, is a key player. He is played by Nicholas Cage in a role that presents his uniquely weird side, the only side of Cage we truly enjoy. His costume resembles a more haphazard version of Batman, and while suited up he talks in a rendition of Adam West's Batman from TV. As an ex-cop turned vigilante out for revenge and justice, Cage is oftentimes quite funny, and only he could fire a bullet into the chest of a small girl and make it acceptable to laugh at.

While "Kick-Ass" serves effortlessly as a fanboy's wet dream in satiating the delights of comic book lore, be sure to take a closer look. Vaughn and his writers have something on their mind, so don't let its slick exterior fool you into thinking there's not something more. It is sheer entertainment, there's no doubting that; it's a purely cinematic sensory attack that will confuse and infuriate some. But it's also a look at the viral power of the internet – Kick-Ass and Red Mist keep in contact with each other and their fans through Myspace – and youth culture. "Kick-Ass" is really smart in how it presents itself with dark comedy and scathing irony. Such intelligence behind a project allows something as seemingly irresponsible as this to exist.

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