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Kick-Ass Review

Kick-Ass :
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
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Released in 2010

Ever wish to fill in the shoes of your favorite superhero? Imagine holding the ability to swing from building to building like Spiderman or using your wealth and intellect to fight crime like Bruce Wayne.  Well, after a viewing of Kick-Ass, these wishes may wane as this somewhat realistic take (note the somewhat) on superheroes is unforgiving in its depiction of vigilante crime fighters. From the first scene to the last, Kick-Ass delivers a unique, hilarious, violent and occasionally shocking take on the often-cliched superhero genre.

Ironically, the film starts out with perhaps the most routine high school plot out there:  an unimpressive, though handsome and compassionate, teen named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) has the "superpower" of being invisible to girls as he deals with hormones, bullying and awkward situations. His lame friends are Evan Peters and the new Jonah Hill, Clark Duke, from Hot Tub Time Machine. He has a crush on the pretty girl - Lyndsy Fonseca, also from Hot Tub - but it does not help that she thinks he is gay. Thankfully, this does not remain the main storyline for long as Dave decides, for almost no emotional reason at all, to become a superhero. He buys a green and yellow scuba costume online and seeks to help those who are ignored by bystanders when they need help most. His moniker? Kick-Ass.

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So begins the kinetic, and sometimes disturbing, riot this film becomes. Dave becomes an Internet sensation as a video of him sloppily fighting a few thugs becomes a hit on YouTube. He begins to take requests by those who need help, but he has one particular target held above the rest. When trying to "kick ass" in order to impress the girl of his dreams, Dave runs into the real stars of this movie, Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Hit Girl, the remarkable Chloe Moretz who will be recognized from (500) Days of Summer, viciously - and really unnecessarily - slays a room of goons with a double-edged sword after dropping the C bomb. All the while, a childish chanting tune plays in the background to provide a queasy juxtaposition.  Big Daddy provides support from afar, and the character is captured by none other than the brilliant Nicolas Cage. After this particular event, a millionaire crime boss, played by Mark Strong, perceives these misfit heroes as legitimate threats to his drug ring. His spoiled son, Christopher Mintz-Plasse  - forever McLovin' - dons a costume himself and tries to get Kick-Ass on his side in order for his father to dispose of this nuisance. The plot dips and dives from this point to the end, making for an entertaining, if thematically inconsistent, ride.

The content at hand may shock some with its dark tone and liberal use of violence, not to mention pervasive language. Completely inexperienced and naive Kick-Ass tries to fight off some gangsters only to end up in the hospital. The film does not portray it too comically either; you are left feeling somewhat nauseated. The equally stupid gangsters are portrayed in a different light, as every misstep of theirs usually ends up in a bloody mess but is played off for worthwhile laughs. The actions of Hit Girl and Big Daddy lay somewhere in between. Every time they take the screen, awesomeness is guaranteed to unfold. Sometimes it is comical, such as the first appearance of Hit Girl, or sometimes it is a brisk, well-choreographed slice of action that can be seen when Big Daddy disposes a group of mobsters in record time. The violence is certainly exaggerated, but not over-stylized a la Kill Bill, to provide a proper, concrete disconnect between the viewer and the action on-screen.  These scenes all oscillate in tone and purpose, making the movie a rough, bumpy wooden roller coaster instead of a smooth, comfortable steel one. That is fine for a young, blasé youth like myself, but this practice tends to polarize viewers, the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading as an example. Wanted, from 2008, pulled off this style better than most, blending comedy with ruthless violence, but it lacked the charm of either of these two films. Take one, leave the other, apparently.

The greatest point of contention for many in this film is the star of the show herself, Hit Girl. The adorable Chloe Moretz steals the show as the foul-mouthed, guiltless killer who was raised by a loving father who forgoes Barbie dolls for butterfly knives.  She is a riot in every scene, and though much of her draw comes from the shock value of what she is doing on screen, she certainly has talent on her own. She has the ability to be simultaneously menacing and cute at the same time, and I am sure she will headline her own film very soon. Nicolas Cage, the actor who is great even when he is terrible, is the obsessed, troubled father who cares for his daughter, even if the two only talk about the obscure names for famous firearms. When he dons his Batman-like costume, he speaks with an indisputable Adam West cadence that is both hilarious and a reminder that, no matter how  kick-ass these superheroes may be, they are ultimately a bunch of comic book geeks. Truly, the film is alive with these two stars on the screen.

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The rest of the cast is solid, if unremarkable. Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson, provides an uninteresting narration but delivers a worthy performance. His trials and tribulations, both with and without his costume on, are overbearing throughout, and he convincingly conveys this deep pain. While his pseudonym is the film's name, he is not really the leading character, instead acting as the vehicle to fit in every other character's story around him. The antagonist, Frank D'Amico, is a soulless villain who is hard to root for, but the performance by Mark Strong is certainly better than his super cheesy turn in Sherlock Holmes. He does not cease to chew the scenery, but a more interesting character, one who is intertwined with Big Daddy's past, makes this a far better performance than the bland Lord Blackwood. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who will never live up to his immortal role of McLovin, disappoints as he barely has any notable lines, nor is he too interesting as Kick-Ass's wealthy counterpart, Red Mist. Kick-Ass is an entertaining package, but upon analyzation, it is not hard to notice that the film nearly grinds to a halt when Cage or Moretz are not on the screen.

Kick-Ass will, and already has, offended many and been condemned by family groups and critics alike. Roger Ebert himself stated that this film is "morally reprehensible." Nah. The film relies on shock value, certainly, and can get very, very dark at times, but the only problem that this ultimately creates is a constantly vacillating shift in tone. Hit Girl, near the end, gets brutally beaten by D'Amico, making for another disturbing scene, but this just reveals the film's haphazard pacing, not the demonic intentions. There is no reason to castigate the  ethics behind the movie (named Kick-Ass by the way) because I can state with 100% certainty that no one without a severe preexisting mental condition will turn into an abhorrent cursing maniac, or a perverse, bloodthirsty killer. We Americans are a jaded bunch. With the Internet, we can see anything we want, free of charge. Kick-Ass should not prove too disturbing to a generation that can watch the uncensored 9/11 attacks on YouTube. To those complaining about the "morals" behind this film, lighten up. Kick-Ass may have problems of its own, but it is too much fun to be blacklisted by a cranky few.

Final Verdict:
3.5 Stars Out of 5

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