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Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Produced by: Adam Bohlng, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid, Kris Thykier, Matthew Vauhgn

Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Distributor: Lionsgate


     In film school, budding writers and directors learn a lot about creating characters for whom the audience can empathize, but just as important in many cases, I think, is that the characters empathize with the audience. I don’t mean this literally, of course, but I do think that with a demographic-specializing film like Kick-Ass, target viewers should feel as though the characters would understand them if they sat down and had coffee.

     This is precisely what Matthew Vaughn’s screen adaptation of the faux-superhero comic does, understanding the socially-unpopular teenage male to such an extent that many guys will feel as though it’s speaking directly to them. Roger Ebert, the film’s most widely read detractor, expressed his fear that six-year-old kids might be taught the wrong lessons by the movie’s 11-year-old murderess Hit Girl. I would content that’s a lot less likely to happen than it is that Kick-Ass will uplift and even inspire 16-year-old males en masse. Yes, I’m seriously reading all this into a movie about a teenager who puts on a ridiculous costume, only to end up involved in a father-daughter duo of assassins’ attempt to take down organized criminals.

     Said teenager is Dave Lizewski (British up-and-comer Aaron Johnson), who informs the audience in opening voice-over that he’s always wondered why an Average Joe hasn’t ever tried to become a superhero. The idea seems especially pertinent in an age of media saturated with comic-book characters. And indeed, after a brief introduction to his home life and his buddies at school (Clark Duke and Evan Peters), the movie forges on with Dave’s creation of Kick-Ass, who sports an Internet-purchased emerald jumpsuit and seeks to assist mankind… or something like that.

     After a near-deadly mishap in his first foray fighting crime, Kick-Ass enters the public eye when he saves a man from being bludgeoned to death in a parking lot, all while onlookers record the incident and subsequently upload it to YouTube. Lulled into a false-sense of confidence due to his popularity, he has to be rescued during a sticky situation by legitimately skilled fellow wannabe-superheroes, the aforementioned Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). This pair, who spend most of their time in a room adorned with illegal weapons, have their own blood-soaked plans. Dave’s Kick-Ass soon becomes involved in a world of real violence that is not unlike that which fills the pages of the comic books he treasures.

     The reason Kick-Ass is a special movie is not all of its superiorly-styled, flashy excess (which is great, too—and we’ll get into that later), but the fact that Dave is a well-developed and nuanced character. More of an ordinary, boring guy than a geek (as he himself admits), Dave is a terrific representation of teenage male angst. From its depiction of Dave’s time spent browsing the Internet to his interaction with a popular girl at school (Lyndsy Fonseca), the film has an uncanny ability to nail the character. What’s more: Dave’s humanity is even more pronounced and accessible when he becomes Kick-Ass, as extraordinary situations tend to bring out certain truths in characters. The movie sometimes feels like a revved up Superbad in that it thrusts real-seeming adolescents into an exaggerated plot to better understand them. (Ironically, both films feature Christopher “McLovin’” Mintz-Plasse. Here he plays “Red Mist.”) That’s the real marvel of Kick-Ass: despite the fact that it’s filled to the brim with action, it remains grounded in character.

     While more trivial than Dave, Chloe Moretz’ show-stopping Hit Girl is just as vital to the picture’s success. The focal point of most of the action, the 11-year-old, purple-wig sporting assassin never really transcends shock-value, but she doesn’t need to. Because director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) never allows the character’s violent rampages to become monotonous or overlong, she remains interesting until the end. Early on, we see Hit Girl train by tolerating her father’s shots into her bulletproof vest and near the end, we watch her shoot up dozens of grown men herself. What’s not interesting about that? In fact, Hit Girl is made even more memorable by young actress Moretz’ outrageously serious, charismatic performance. Moretz has signed several huge deals already—she’s to star in the American remake of Let the Right One in before moving on to Martin Scorsese’s first 3D film—and it’s not hard to figure out why. She seems destined to become the next big child star.

     Speaking of Hit Girl, it would be remiss of me not to mention how skillfully handled the action is in Kick-Ass. In an era of annoying shaky-cam, the swift and interesting climactic moments in this film seem golden. Yes, the killing rampages on display here are fast and chaotic, but they are never incoherent – a key distinction. One strobe-light laden sequence set to a familiar musical score is downright brilliant. In fact, Vaughn’s skilled stylizations on several occasions reminded me of those of Quentin Tarantino – not a small compliment. He handles the colorful action deftly and swiftly – what more could one ask for?

      So, what prevents Kick-Ass from becoming a modern superhero classic ala The Dark Knight, you ask, having noted my three-out-of-four bucket rating. Well, despite my strong affection for the movie’s human qualities, I don’t think it goes much of anywhere, nor does it intend to. But Kick-Ass does everything it sets out to do and, as a result, stands a breezy, fun, funny, and exciting work of cinema. The movie might not be great itself, but it will no doubt provide a great night out at the multiplex.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 4.16.2010


Kick-Ass is rated R and runs 117 minutes.

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