By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
“It’s crazy. I expected something funny, cute. But it’s this random, violent action thing based on a comic book. Really wild. Pretty gross, too. Not bad, though.”
Thus spake a geeky, redheaded seventeen-year-old as he was greeted by his pals upon exiting from a showing of Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
But I’ll try. Let’s start with the title. As I’m somewhat older than my apparent successor, I remember when Lucille Ball was with child. While quite obvious, the word pregnant was nonetheless verboten on “I Love Lucy.” Magically, she had the baby. But just blink your eyes, and now it’s O.K. to say kick-ass left and right without compunction.
Call it the New Freedom…the embarrassing, albeit crucially legitimate, nephew of the First Amendment. I didn’t know there was a hyphen between kick and ass. Oops. Separating the two doesn’t unleash anything does it…like when salt is broken down to poisonous chlorine and violent sodium?
Begging the segue, this is strange chemistry indeed. The opening scene shows Nicolas Cage’s Damon Macready pointing a pistol at his eleven-year-old daughter, Mindy (Chloe Moretz). It’s not what we think. A few seconds pass, and now it’s not what we then thought. But before we run out of tenses and participles, it starts to make sense.
That is, in its weird, would-be anarchical way. For all the nasty images it conjures, slyly interspersed with dark humor and occasional insight, “Kick-Ass” is essentially an angry diatribe against everything the filmmaker can fit in his kitchen sink of shock and protest. It does what comic books have traditionally done: vicariously rectify.
You might remember how you felt when you were an idealistic teen, frustrated by what seemed like grownups’ complacent countenancing of injustice. ‘Tis a bad, bad world out there—from back alley thugs stealing your lunch to politicians making hay from the enmity they incite between left and right—and no one’s doing a thing about it.
All of which is why it would be great if you were a bona fide, cape-wearing, kick-ass superhero. Not only would you cure all the planet’s ills, but also win the envy of your peers and doubtlessly attract the attentions of the opposite sex. Such are the pure, hormonal motivations of teen angst, translated here into feature length proportions.
But just as Lucy would today be knocked up, let alone pregnant, our contemporary tale of super heroism has gained a shadowy tarnish to it. So much so that while viewing “Kick-Ass” I couldn’t help think how much Quentin Tarantino probably wished he had made this film. Too bad he didn’t. While audacious, it lacks that informed irony.
Rather, though there is metaphor, simile and symbol, it’s the pile on variety…the twists and turns soon repetitiously eclipsed by more of the same. But it’s quite a ride before the film hits the wall of its outrage level and then wends its way to the usual culmination. The mixture of goody-two-shoes altruism and outright nihilism is flabbergasting.
Of course Aaron Johnson’s Dave Lizewski, who ultimately evolves into the title superhero, begins his journey quite innocently. It just seems like a good idea. Y’know, fight for truth, justice and the American way. So what if he has no super powers at first. He’s got a computer, a blog, a mail order costume and a humdrum life he’d like to ditch.
Alternately chided and bolstered by his pimpled buddies, he ventures out on his first mission. But his well-intentioned game of dress-up soon rankles New York drug kingpin Frank D’Amico, loathsomely realized by Mark Strong. However, surviving the villain’s attack conveniently proves the axiom that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Meanwhile, other forces also have their superhero aspirations. Much more prepared and equipped are the previously mentioned Damon Macready et fille, who, as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, are soon making the city’s criminal element wish they had finished that correspondence course. Reaching out to our novice, an entente cordiale is established.
But what stops us in our tracks is Miss Moretz’s kiddy assassin, as much for her vile profanity as the production line carnage she wreaks. Nope, can’t repeat that four-lettered favorite here. The thing is, it’s being uttered by a young girl. Less startling but almost as curious is the fascination with the whole Femme Nikita thing, of which this is a variation.
On the sweeter end in this clash of dipoles is Dave’s wistful desire to be cool and of use. A Holden Caulfield of his age, absent the literary panache, he’d like to cut through the red tape of adolescence. Hence, the, uh, bottom line in assenting to put your keister in a theater showing “Kick-Ass” entails a willingness to take the good with the badass.
“Kick-Ass,” rated R, is a Lionsgate release directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz. Running time: 117 minutes
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