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Profane is Pop: “Kick-Ass” Reviewed

29 Apr 2010

The audience shudders with laughter, some riotous and some nervous, and the teenage couple next to me swig from their brown-bagged cylinders. Damon Macready, a.k.a. Big Daddy, (Nicholas Cage) has just fired a handgun directly at the wee chest of his daughter Mindy, a.k.a. Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) and we are spellbound. She’s alright — thanks for asking — being strapped in a bulletproof vest. The father has prepared his child for the pain of a bullet.

This is the profane, violent, ridiculous and above all, gratuitously fun superhero movie that is “Kick-Ass.”

David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), our titular hero, professes to be an average high schooler. He hangs out with friends at the comic store. He dreams about the girl next locker, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). And in these hard economic times, he keeps Kleenex in business, filling his trash can with the tissued fantasy of his well-endowed English teacher. A superhero he is not.

But nevertheless, sick of the bullying and delinquency he and his friends face day after day, Lizewski decides to don a scuba suit and mask (courtesy of eBay) and teach the criminals a lesson. Enter crime kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and other inspired costumed vigilantes, and this adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic series is soon owning its R-rating entirely.

Kick-Ass’ first fight is against two vandals trying to break into a car. In a real world where superpowers don’t exist and Bruce Waynian technology isn’t easy to come by, our hero is inevitably pummeled. Brutally. The movie takes a pistol to the myth that superheroic fantasy is a form of empowerment and blows its brains out.

Costumed vigilantism is absurd, if we think about it. The Batman is dressed like a bat. This example is an apt one, since Big Daddy himself takes after the campy 1960s version of the Dark Knight. Here Cage is returned to good form, his character assuming the quick speech patterns and awfully unstylish handmade outfit with such honesty that it’s both amusing and disturbing.

The movie takes a pistol to the myth that superheroic fantasy is a form of empowerment and blows its brains out.

With the help of YouTube and MySpace, these crimefighters are able to arrest the attention of adoring fans, quickly reach those in need, and revel in their own fame and egos. In part, “Kick-Ass” is a spoof of the modern media frenzy. Yet the goofiness of our obsession with popular culture stands in stark contrast to their sobering quest to take down Frank D’Amico.

But then we come to our shining star, who — to be honest — makes it look pretty easy. Sit down, Kick-Ass. Child heroine Hit Girl steals the show, being one part bloodthirsty ninja, one part foul-mouthed lionness, one part uncomfortably sexualized parody and one part playful young girl.

And play Chloë Moretz does — play it with perfect, reckless abandon. Through her, director Matthew Vaughn creates an homage to the vulgar fast-talking of Quentin Tarentino and the balletic martial action of John Woo.

Yet for all its critique of pop culture and rollocking action fare, I’m not sure whether “Kick-Ass” succeeds on the level it hopes for. I want to gush for it. As far as sheer entertainment goes, “Kick-Ass” is undoubtedly up there. I can’t help but think that the movie, at times, becomes exactly the kind of movie it attempts to parody in the first place.

Whereas we wince when Hit Girl or Kick-Ass get their faces smashed in combat, we cheer and laugh when these characters rain havoc on others. As the deaths become gorier and more complex – here Matthew Vaughn’s slick visual style and acrobatic choreography shine – we sink deeper into our own fantastical indulgences. Roger Ebert has controversially decried the film as “morally reprehensible.” I can understand these worries. Why we are so magnetically drawn to these characters and this world, just as their fans within the movie are?

Perhaps because it doesn’t hurt, quite literally, to experience the thrill. We live through the eyes of these characters, who through convenience of fiction can enact the fantasy in a way we cannot. In our ideal world, the bad guys lose, and they lose totally. And they deserve it, because they’re just so damned bad.

Sit back. “Kick-Ass” is a hell of a good time. It’s only a movie, after all — and I’m not being facetious.

(Cross-published with The Middlebury Campus)

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