The least offensive thing about Kick-Ass is its title. The most offensive? That's way too hard to pinpoint.
Kick-Ass is flat-out, balls-to-the-wall funny. Now, if you're someone who likes to get on a high horse about inappropriate material in movies, Kick-Ass will give you saddle sores. But if you appreciate humor that's outrageous and makes you gasp in that I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that way, Kick-Ass is right up your alley.
On the offense: Johnson and Moretz.
(Photo by Dan Smith)
Speaking of alleys, Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is just the guy you'd want to meet in a dark one. He's a loner who wears a mask to shield his identity while protecting innocent New Yorkers from crime. He's like Batman, only without the cool gadgets, an accommodating butler or a license. He's really just a dorky teenager with a penchant for comic books who wears a modified scuba suit.
Based on the comic book written by Mark Millar, Kick-Ass is the assumed identity of unassuming high school loser Dave Lizewski. Fed up with being the neighborhood punching bag, Dave assumes the role of Kick-Ass, defender of dorks everywhere. Needless to say, with no powers, training or high-tech tools, he's not that intimidating. But all it takes is one kid with a camera phone and the power of the Internet for Kick-Ass to become a household name.
Meanwhile, another hero is being groomed for legendary crime-fighting status. This one, however, has balls. Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) is awesome, no other way to say it. This pre-teen can eliminate a seasoned thug using a gun, a spear or a knife. A hallway lined with trained killers? No problem. A room filled with drug-dealing malcontents? Child's play. Thanks to the tutelage of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), Hit-Girl is a cold-blooded assassin in a purple wig.
When Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl go up against crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) by taking out a number of his goons, D'Amico's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) creates Red Mist to lure the would-be heroes out into the open. It's this conflict that fuels most of the story – and the violence – but it isn't overly compelling and therefore comes secondary to the film's character exploration.
Director Michael Vaughn co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman, (the two collaborated on 2007's Stardust), and they are fueled by a drive to be outrageous. They don't create a comic-book world as much as they create a world influenced by comic books. But all the same rules apply because the characters hang out in a comic-book shop. The heroes have a tragic backstory that influences their actions. In an attempt to protect their alter egos, they build walls between themselves and others. And the good guys always win. The only rule that Vaughn and Goldman break over and over again is political correctness. For example, Dave gets the girl, but only because she thinks he plays for the other team and she wants a gay best friend. But what's a case of mistaken sexuality when it means you get to have sleepovers with the hottest girl in your class?
The actors throw themselves into the ridiculous roles with wild abandon. Johnson looks like a young David Eigenberg (Sex and the City's Steve) with his aw-shucks boyish charm and inner-nerd just below the surface. He's no George Clooney as Batman (or even Val Kilmer for that matter) but he's just what you'd expect to be under Kick-Ass's weird, S&M bondage-like mask. Mintz-Plasse is starting to leave his Superbad McLovin' days behind, though he's still that geek at heart. However, even in this campy role, there's a hint of maturity that proves he's growing up.
None of the adults are at all stable, but leering crazy-eyed behind a downy mustache, Cage is undeniably creepy as the cowl-wearing Big Daddy. Altering his speech pattern every time he wears the cape, Cage manages to make mundane lines hysterical and turn the most abusive child-rearing tactics into seemingly rational life-lessons.
It's Moretz, however, who steals the movie. The first time you see Hit-Girl standing over a kill with a bloody weapon in her hand, you know she's the star. She brings attitude and moxie to the role and gives you plenty of reason to believe that this cute young girl wouldn't hesitate to drive a knife into your belly if you got in her way. Imbuing the character with wisdom beyond her age, Moretz makes the whole concept fire more smoothly than a well-oiled Glock.
For all the shootings, stabbings, and one exploding body in a microwave, Kick-Ass treats violence in a very matter-of-fact way. Sometimes you die sitting at the breakfast table and sometimes you get a bullet through your skull. It's not pretty, but Vaughn makes it pretty funny.
All too often it's a dreadful ending when a movie's final moments are spent teeing up the sequel. For Kick-Ass, however, it's a reason to cheer. Because really, can there ever be too many films with jet packs and bazookas?