film review: Kick-Ass

At the risk of sounding completely un-cool, I must admit I had wildly mixed feelings about Kick-Ass. I understand the filmmakers’ desire to fulfill fanboys’ fantasies and, at the same time, provide shock value for the rest of the audience—especially anyone who might be offended by mind-numbing violence or truly crude language from the lips of an 11-year-old girl. But the two concepts don’t easily gel.

What’s more, the movie opens on what turns out to be a deceptive note of sincerity. High-school geek Dave Lizewski (well-cast newcomer Aaron Johnson) dreams of becoming a superhero named—

—Kick-Ass, not just to break free from nerd-dom but because he genuinely wants to help people. His fledgling efforts are doomed to failure, but he doesn’t give up.

In a parallel story, we meet a loving father, played by Nicolas Cage (in a deliciously deranged performance) who is busily training his 11-year-old daughter to become a hit-man. He and she are the real superheroes of the story, a vigilante duo whose paths are destined to cross Dave Lizewski’s.

The versatile British actor Mark Strong, who’s done such fine work in Body of Lies, The Young Victoria, and other recent films, is cast as an iron-willed Italian-American crime boss who’s also a family man. (His son, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse–aka McLovin—also plays a role in Kick-Ass’s ultimate fate.)

So far, so good; at a certain point I would have labeled the film a guilty pleasure, with some potent shock-value moments and flamboyant comic-book mayhem. But the filmmakers—writer-director Matthew Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman, working from Mark Millar’s blueprint and comic book and John Romita, Jr.’s artwork—have no restraint. The film runs nearly two hours, which dilutes rather than strengthens its impact, and the longer it goes, the wilder it gets.

On one level, I can appreciate the twisted novelty value of having a pint-sized girl become a foul-mouthed killing machine, but seeing it on a printed page is one thing; having it come to vivid life on the big screen is another matter. I felt queasy, even as some people around me were laughing.

Even if you’re depicting a so-called comic book world, there comes a point when meanness, torture, and ultra-violence can’t easily be written off as “fun.” At least, not in my book. Some movies have managed to pull this off, so perhaps it’s a matter of tone, or artful writing, or that most subjective of commodities, taste. All I know is, this movie, for all its flashy visuals and occasionally clever ideas, left a bad taste in my mouth.

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April 2024