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Kick-Ass

Cute kids cheerfully engaged in garroting, pulverizing and assorted R-rated bloodletting 

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Stand by for vengeance: Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz)
  • Stand by for vengeance: Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz)

I'm no fan of cloying cute kids in movies. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm ready to see cute kids cheerfully engaged in garroting, pulverizing and assorted R-rated bloodletting on the big screen, either.

Viewers will see plenty of the latter in Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's comic-book series. Despite trailers and TV commercials that make this action-comedy look like a colorful, chop-socky candy store, this film earns its R-rating in profanity and violence (however comic).

Those cool with that should find Kick-Ass to be great fun: It's Revenge of the Nerds with a Superbad upgrade, processed through the current gleeful-gore genre. It's also packed with shout-outs and homage to comics, superheroes and classic tales of vengeance.

Our titular hero is Dave (Aaron Johnson), an all-'round high school loser. But, inspired by his beloved comics, he orders a green-and-yellow scuba suit, and actually hits the streets as a superhero-in-his-mind, a.k.a. Kick-Ass.  

A somewhat clumsy effort at preventing a robbery is captured on camera by an unconcerned citizen, and soon, a video of Kick-Ass goes viral. Remarkably, Dave's DIY superhero-dom spurs a couple more wannabe nocturnal action heroes: Red Mist, and the duo of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.

After a fairly lengthy preamble, the plot kicks into high gear, as Kick-Ass discovers that playacting at crime-fighting quickly brings on real trouble.

Red Mist is the alter-ego of Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad's McLovin), the well-heeled but neglected son of a pretty shady businessman. Red Mist is pre-loaded with shiny techno-gadgets, and drives a pretty bitchin' color-coordinated sports car. The father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) surely proves the old adage that a loving family can never spend enough time amassing weapons.

For once, Cage seems to have selected the right role for his on-screen limitations: He actually tones down his hammy acting, while still playing a parody of the various idiotic action heroes he has foisted upon us over the years.

Hit-Girl is frankly a new player on the movie scene: a prepubescent avenging angel, who squeals like the little girl she is over a birthday gift of butterfly knives. The comics world is a tough place to develop nuanced female characters, and Hit-Girl's antecedents are the leave-'em-dead-while-laughing ladies of Kill Bill. (At least she's of an age where she can't be sexualized: This is a tomboy in a purple plaid school-uniform skirt.) Hit-Girl does get some of the film's funniest lines, though I don't mean the cheap humor when the screenwriter simply has her curse.

That said, I can see this film resonating with those who favor baroque cartoon violence (death by bazooka, anyone?), guys couching their adolescent insecurities in endless dirty talk, and little girls who are perfectly knowable, living by an uncomplicated kill-or-be-killed credo. With its stretching of entertainment taboos, Kick-Ass could be another sign that our culture is devolving into muck faster than we can process. But if you're already slipping into that morass, at least with Kick-Ass, you'll go down cheering and laughing.

 

Starts Fri., April 16.

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