Your Friendly Neighborhood Kick-Ass

04/14/2010 3:00 PM |

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Kick-Ass manages to strip the superhero movie formula of its elaborate origin myths all the while amping up everything else about the genre, from innumerable nods towards predecessors to at times uncomfortably visceral violence. Based on the eponymous comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., it’s at once a quilted parody and a disarmingly earnest, lurid and pulpy attempt to mint the next masked franchisee. It quickly rises to the top of the DIY superhero subgenre (Blankman doesn’t stand a chance!), and though it owes a great deal to Mystery Men, Kick-Ass sets itself apart with a core of familiar yet charmingly filled-out teenage characters. (And Nicolas Cage doing, amongst other funny things, an Adam West impression that on its own is worth the price of admission.) Visually its version of New York City lies somewhere between the popping primary colors of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and the murky neo-noir of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, but emotionally it sides more with the former.

Our geekier-than-Peter Parker high school hero, Dave (Aaron Johnson), moved by emasculated powerlessness and upstanding citizenship following a few too many muggings, makes himself over into the titular crime-fighter, with a wet suit for a costume and a MySpace blog for requests. (What, Facebook wouldn’t pay up for product placement?) After a disastrous first outing leaves him steel-reinforced and partially desensitized to pain (“like Wolverine”), a popular YouTube video of his second, less disastrous good deed leads to overnight fame and scores of imitators. Part web meme, part marketable fad, the only thing this 21st century superhero is missing is a Twitter account, which doesn’t keep two much more well-equiped homemade crime-fighters from following him. Psychotic, adrenaline-addicted father-daughter duo Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) do the lion’s share of the film’s ass-kicking, and eventually recruit the new kid to do the same at their side.

Dave keeps busy with relatively minor jobs that will get him closer to his crush Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who’s taken him on as her gay best friend after rumors stemming from the circumstances of his surgery. Meanwhile Hit Girl and Big Daddy are out for revenge upon police-protected, multi-billionaire mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, much better as a business suit-clad villain than the ridiculous Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes), whose son happens to be Dave’s maladjusted classmate Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). (Both Dave and Hit Girl, and to a lesser degree Chris’s crime-fighting avatar Red Mist, are products of single-father households, a conspicuous coincidence that’s never fully explored.)

As the Kick-Ass craze grows and D’Amico realizes that the masked and caped crusaders are coming after him, director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) manages to segue with only minor awkwardness through a live webcam execution sequence lifted from, of all places, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, into a Matrix-lobby-sequence-caliber climactic kill-fest. Though the essential goodness of their cause and sureness of their success are rarely ever in doubt, the victory of our working-class heroes over their uber-wealthy, cop-corrupting foe is a source of immense pleasure that Kick-Ass taps till it’s nearly dry.

Opens April 16