Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's rude! It's crude! It's a real kick!

You better like Kick-Ass - or else.

En route to the preview screening of Kick-Ass, my wife asked me what movie we were about to see. I'm sometimes deceitfully vague about such things, and this was one of those occasions. When I'm not sure that a movie will appeal to her - or when I'm pretty certain it won't - I usually mumble something like "movie tonight."

Of course, after many years of movie companionship, my wife knows my duplicitous ways. She either agrees to keep me company - a form of marital pity, I suppose - or cooks up an excuse for staying home. "So much to do." "So tired." "So not as crazy as you."

I've always felt sorry for critics whose spouses are less adventurous than mine. My wife has seen many awful movies, but look at it his way: The junk makes the good ones seem even better.

Anyway, we're already too close to the theater to turn around when I tell her the night's movie is called Kick-Ass. She groans, but I try to reassure her.

"Look, you never know," I say, pumping a bit of uncustomary optimism into my voice.

All this by way of telling you that Kick-Ass does everything that its title promises and perhaps a little more. And, yes, my wife enjoyed it as much as I did, and was totally taken with Chloe Moretz, who plays an 11-year-old character named Hit Girl. Hit Girl packs a wallop, knows her way around weapons and has an R-rated mouth that provides the movie with a running (and alarmingly funny) joke: Her behavior is so stunningly inappropriate for her age that you either shudder or laugh. I laughed. Besides, how can you not admire an 11-year-old girl who sounds as if she'd like to kick Hannah Montana in the teeth and curse a blue streak while doing it?

Kick-Ass is one of those movies that has the potential to divide audiences. If the idea of watching an 11-year-old kill, curse and maim offends you, stay home. In fact, stop reading now. I recently saw a report that James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory fame) is working on a new movie. Be patient. Your day will come.

But it you're in the other group - that would be those of us who like cheap thrills and unabashed genre kicks - pull up a chair and let me tell you about a movie that's fun and (ready for this?) even includes a Nicolas Cage performance that won't make you want to rip your eyes out.

Oops. I just realized I haven't even mentioned what this wildly insane movie is all about. Adapted from a comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass tells the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) a horny high-school kid (is there any other kind in movies?) who believes that every self-respecting human longs to be a superhero. What better way to help your fellow man than to trample a few villains?

True to his dorky nature, Dave sends away for a wet suit. It's green with yellow piping and comes with a mask. He names his newly minted Superhero "Kick-Ass," which shows that he's got a sense of daring and (let's face it) a poorly developed imagination. Delusional Dave, who has absolutely no superpowers, believes that the superhero costume somehow will make him invulnerable.

Looking for logic in a movie such as Kick-Ass is a bit like trying to locate a burger at a vegan convention. You just don't do it. The movie doesn't so much unfold as pop from one set-piece to another, introducing a host of amusingly preposterous characters along the way. Dave has long had a crush on high-school hottie Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Because of a bizarre twist, she believes he's gay, and reaches out to him. She's always wanted a gay friend. You know those gays. So sensitive.

To stay in touch with Katie, Dave sustains the ruse.

The other characters will be familiar to aficionados of the comic. Cage plays Big Daddy, a former cop who seeks revenge against Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), one of the city's crime bosses. Hit Girl is Big Daddy's daughter, the sweet little girl that he's turned into a lethal weapon.

As it turns out, D'Amico's son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse; a.k.a. Superbad's McLovin) wants to follow in his father's footsteps. To aid his father, he sets a trap for Kick-Ass, posing as a superhero named Red Mist. It's difficult to imagine two dorkier superheroes than Kick-Ass and Red Mist, but then you don't have to: The movie gets a lot of mileage out of these two wannabe heroes.

As you may already have guessed, Moretz and Mintz-Plasse steal the show. As the title character, Johnson doesn't register quite as strongly, perhaps because he spends an awful lot of time behind his goofy mask. And Moretz? Well, it's possible that in her Hit Girl outfit and purple wig, you won't recognize her from her turn in 500 Days of Summer.

Director Matthew Vaughn, best known for Layer Cake, an entertaining but derivative British crime drama of the kind that was in vogue after the success of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, in no way shrinks from insanity. Rather he revels in it, propelling his movie across the screen with real comic-book zest. He occasionally presents us with comic-book-style drawings, perhaps to remind those who aren't prepared for so much rabid violence that they are indeed watching a movie.

Now, usually I might be offended by an 11-year-old girl who spouts profanity, and when Kick-Ass threatened (only for a hot minute) to get a little serious, I fretted. But the frenzied action, cartoonish gangsters and dark humor - not to mention Kick-Ass' voice-over narration - proves as funny as it is far-fetched. Check your inhibitions at the door and you may have a good time. I can't predict how audiences will react to Kick-Ass. Detractors surely will see it as the equivalent of pulling another brick out of an already crumbling cultural wall. But I'm voting enthusiastically in favor of this bit of cinematic mayhem. Vaughn manages to ape and poke fun at as many genres as he can find. A rude-ass popcorn movie with a foul mouth and taste for exaggerated violence, Kick-Ass is a blast.

Don't believe me? Ask my wife.

No comments: