Kick-Ass, based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and John S. Romita, Jr. (which I have not read), contains the seeds of greatness in the vein of John Ritter's 1980 Hero at Large, 1981's Condorman (which it directly references visually), the eighties television series "The Greatest American Hero" (soon, I'm sure, coming to a theater near you in remade feature form; we'll probably see the trailer before the new A-Team flick), or the recent, superior Unbreakable, Skins or Watchmen, but it doesn't quite make it to any of those heights.
Instead, it's meta-comic book movie hampered by its own comic-bookiness. It can't find its footing. You may know from the trailers that the movie is the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-book geek with lots of identity issues who decides to don a green-and-yellow leotard and fight crime just like in the funny pages. If you've seen any of the trailers, you've also had the opening sequence spoiled for you. It would have been a great opening sequence if it hadn't been spoiled, so I won't respoil it here.
But, unfortunately, this is emblematic of the rest of the film. It starts in the clouds and keeps seeming like it's looking up, but never quite satisfies in a way one might hope.
The joke of the movie is supposed to be grandiose idealized visions of superherodom getting busted by hard-bitten reality, and there are some nice set-ups which fill that out in a cruel slapstick comedy kind of way. But punchline death upon death and murder upon murder and wound upon wound mount up so heartlessly and meaninglessly that the joke gets old fast.
A lot of the problems are superhero clashes or disconnects. There are four main superheroes in the film, Dave Lizewski's titular one, the team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz, (500) Days of Summer) and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and with the exception of the funny one developed between Kick-Ass and Red Mist, which is just right, their relationships are odd, hastily sketched, thin or timid at best.
There's no real backstory (though there is an animated backstory segment) or father/daughter chemistry between Cage's and Moretz's characters, nor superhero nor character chemistry among Big Daddy, Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass. They all sort of walk past each other, with few revelatory conflicts.
I didn't mind the depiction of action violence involving a young girl, Hit-Girl, as a superhero, or her swearing or unusual competence with weapons. My complaint is that none of that made much sense or went anywhere. It looks cool, though it is jarring to see her seeming to take real physical hits. This movie is not, repeat not, for the youngsters. I'll repeat it again later. It's rated R, but could have easily been an NC-17, those decisions are mostly quite arbitrary as everyone knows by now. More than anything else, Hit-Girl reminded me of a weird child ghost from one of those weird Asian ghost movies like The Ring....
That said, the effects, costumes, music, pace, and even some of the bit players are entertaining, like Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) as mob boss Frank D'Amico, Evan Peters and Clark Duke as Dave's buddies, Lyndsy Fonseca as Dave's gal pal Katie, Michael Rispoli (While You Were Sleeping, "The Sopranos") as a mob goon with unexpected dramatic flair, and Stu "Large" Riley as Huge Goon, who somewhat predictably gets Pacino's line.
This movie will likely inspire some pretty nerdy enthusiasm, and I don't mind particularly. It's fun in places and has a better overall feeling to it than compared to its actual quality level. It's not for kids. It is foul-mouthed and violent as anything, and much of that is gratuitous and not really smart or necessary. (Note aside to filmmakers: People who want to see human beings microwaved don't get out to the theater much from their prison cells.) My two-and-a-half-star rating is a bare recommendation, for extreme comic-book fans, fans of this comic in general, or of the stars, who do more for the movie than could be reasonably expected. But it's a teetery recommendation, as in general Kick-Ass is one of those meta-movies that metas itself practically out of the cosmos without much lasting visceral or ground-level impact.
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