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Archive for April 20th, 2010

Kick-Ass: The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

Spoiler Index:  Mild

As I sat in the theater watching Kick-Ass, I reflected that surely the downfall of Western civilization was at hand. 

Roger Ebert has called the film “morally reprehensible.”  The New York Times dismisses it as “calculating” and “cynical.”  I am hard pressed to argue with them. Like Porky’s way, way back in the Eighties, Kick-Ass is crude, often tasteless, and pretty much lacking in any redeeming social value. Truly, what kind of sick, twisted minds would proffer this as entertainment? And how desensitized must audiences be to enjoy it?

Fascinating questions . . . but I was too busy laughing, clapping, and cheering along with the rest of the Friday night crowd to care.

Is that wrong?

Look, it’s far from a perfect film. Kick-Ass purports to be a "realistic" take on the superhero movie. Please. It may start off that way, as geeky teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), inspired by the comics he reads, decides to don a costume and fight crime, becoming the title character. As his masked alter ego becomes an Internet sensation, Dave quickly finds himself in over his head. At that point, though, the film dives headfirst into fantasy land. In the world of Kick-Ass, nerve damage doesn’t actually impede one’s ability to fight, any idiot can pick up a military-grade weapon and operate it with no training, and an unemployed man with a prison record has access to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of big-time cash.

It’s not a satire or sendup of superhero movies, either, as some critics seem to think. It’s a full-on embrace of the genre, in all its glory and ridiculousness. The film bats away moral ambiguity as if it were a bothersome fly. No namby-pamby Batman-esque brooding on the ethical boundaries of vigilantism here. Bad guys are bad guys are bad guys, and they all deserve to die–even if they’re unarmed, fleeing, or just happen to be in the vicinity.

Most of the invective for this film centers on the character of Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz)–a pint-sized, foul-mouthed whirling dervish of death, more lethal than Yoda when he put the beat-down on Count Dooku. No, I’m not kidding. Trained by her father, who goes by the moniker Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), Hit-Girl dispatches opponents in a number of creative ways, showing no mercy and even less remorse.

And she’s a riot. Forget about Kick-Ass; the movie belongs to her. Moretz absolutely steals every scene she’s in. Of course, it’s a scene-stealing role. She gets all the best lines–none of which I can repeat in polite company.

What in the hell is the matter with me? Was I not shocked by the level of gore in this film? Was I not in the least bit disturbed by the depiction of a young girl as a stone killer? Did I not cringe and wince at a final fight scene in which said girl is badly beaten by an adult twice her size? Yes, yes, and yes.

Does the movie pander to the basest instincts of its audience? Does it corrupt us, even as we watch? Well, yeah, probably. But I laughed uproariously at Pulp Fiction, too.

And I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t eagerly await Hit-Girl’s every appearance on screen. Love her or hate her, but I guarantee you will not soon forget her.

That’s not to say the rest of the movie is a bore. Johnson makes Dave Lizewski a sympathetic geek. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad‘s McLovin’) is fun as the conflicted Red Mist. Mark Strong lends quality support as villain Frank D’Amico. And let’s not forget about Cage, who nicely assays his role as a man obsessed with vengeance, bringing just the right combination of quirkiness and pathos to the character. The script (penned by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn), though at times clunky and too self-aware, moves briskly, manages to make Hit-Girl believable, and even squeezes out a surprise or two.

I guess it’s official, then: we really are all going to hell in a handbasket. Thanks to Kick-Ass, at least we’re going down smiling.