2 1/2 stars out of 4
It took four months but the first water-cooler movie of 2010 has finally arrived, and on a controversy scale of one to 10, it's an 11. Unlike most critics, who will judge "Kick-Ass" based on its qualities as an action film and its not-so-subtle subtext, the majority of movie-goers are going to either love or loathe it. Those occupying the middle ground will be a lonely lot.
Based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., "Kick-Ass" is both an homage and satire of the fantasy superhero archetype. The first five minutes ingenuously set up the premise and prepare the audience for what appears to be a scathing black comedy.
New York teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a textbook example of the nerdy fanboy. He spends far too much time alone and his social circle consists of two guys exactly like him: virgins obsessed with comics, sci-fi and Internet porn.
Determined to get out of his rut, Dave decides to create Kick-Ass, a crime-fighting superhero. He buys an ugly green and yellow wet suit online, crafts two three-foot clubs and promptly gets beaten and stabbed. Undeterred after his recovery, Dave involves himself in a gang tussle, saves a man and, thanks to a YouTube video, becomes an overnight sensation. This unadvised stunt does wonders for Dave's deflated ego but best of all it gets him closer to the gorgeous Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and wisely makes him consider retiring from the crime-fighting business.
What Dave doesn't know is that his actions have inspired some copycats, most notably the widower Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) and his daughter Mindy (Atlanta-born Chloe Moretz). Unlike the fumbling and bumbling Dave, Damon (now Big Daddy) and Mindy (Hit-Girl) are more than qualified and extremely motivated to become vigilantes and after tuning up on a few burned-out crack-heads, they set their sights on drug lord Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).
The relative charm and screw-loose humor of the title character are now regulated to the background and are replaced by the far more serious Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, who show no mercy while unleashing a barrage of profanity that could make a longshoreman blush. He looks a lot like Batman and she -- with a bright purple wig and tights -- looks like a miniature pole dancer. Was it mentioned that the Hit-Girl character is 11 years old?
Before going further it should be made clear that director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman barely strayed from the source material, and while their movie is rated "R" it could have easily been "NC-17." The action and language are very graphic and is suitable only for responsible and open-minded adults.
The after-the-fact fault here lies solely with distributor Lionsgate, a company that is marketing the film as if it were "Spider-Man" or "Iron Man." The trailers make it look like a tongue-in-cheek, live-action cartoon but that's simply not the case. There's serious bloodletting, torture, slow death by fire, vulgarity and the totally inappropriate exploitation of a child.
Everybody involved here could have avoided all of this by making the Hit-Girl character 18 or older and marketing the film squarely at adults and not young teens or even younger girls who might actually view Hit-Girl as a role model. This isn't irresponsible filmmaking; subtext notwithstanding it's pretty decent. It's deceptive marketing of the highest (or lowest) order.
The toughest job this weekend won't be for the parents deciding whether or not to accompany their children to see "Kick-Ass" -- it will be for the mostly older teens selling tickets at the box-office trying to determine which of those who look a lot like them might be too young. (Lionsgate)