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Movie Review: Kick-Ass

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Before buying a green and yellow costume – essentially pajamas with a hood – and inventing the alter ego Kick-Ass, young Dave imagines how cool it would be to play a superhero – as long as the bad guys play along as well. But, a truth lurks beneath the uneasy surface of Kick-Ass: real bad guys don’t play.

It’s not such a bad idea, I guess. Make a movie about young people feeling dismayed by the lack of heroes in the world, have them respond by donning costumes inspired by their comic book fantasies, and then subject them to real violence, blood, and broken bones. But something got muddled and turned really ugly in the process.

Dave (Aaron Johnson) is a likable teenager, like Peter Parker from Spider-Man. He’s geeky, picked-upon, and invisible to girls. His friends are a tidy little package of the sort of types that would hang out with just his sort of type. And his “meet cute” scene with the girl of his dreams is a suitably cute exchange as they open their side-by-side lockers. (Don’t young lovers ever have lockers on opposite ends of the school?)

While engaging, there’s something undercooked about these teenagers. In comics, characters are introduced economically with a handful of panels. But movies demand more. Such one-dimensional characters do fine as drawings on paper, but prop them up in the real world and they’ll blow away with the slightest breeze.

The teenagers are like little Hamlets compared to the bad guys though. I’ve never grown so weary so fast at the sight of villains before. They are archly stereotypical, predictable, so terminally uninteresting. Great villains are ones that you actually side with, at least for a while, until they show their true selves. I wanted these eliminated on sight.

But, why am I being so critical and nitpicky? It’s just a comic book movie after all – isn’t it? Well, it’s a matter of tone. If the movie was all about fun and filled with over-the-top cartoony violence, I’d play along, accepting the characters as cartoons as well. But Kick-Ass wants more.

Kids get beaten to within inches of their lives. There’s a scene that resembles the videos of POW torture that can be found scattered about the Internet. It’s sadistic. This is the “ugly” I mentioned. It’s “muddled” because we’re not sure what to “get” out of it all. Other than basic feelings of wanting the good guys to live – so they can go to their prom – and wanting the bad guys to die – so we don’t have to watch them any longer – we don’t feel anything.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for how detached teenagers have become, finding casual entertainment in watching other anonymous teenagers kill each other on YouTube. But that leaves little room for heroism, something the movie also clearly wants to discuss. If Kick-Ass inspires any feeling it is to look the other way when someone is in trouble unless you want to wake up in the hospital.

There is one thing though that works very well, the father/daughter relationship between Damon and Mindy (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz). Cage is a goofy original who has been making me laugh unexpectedly for almost three decades. Moretz is an effortlessly charming young star, the most charismatic child performer in ages. We’ll be seeing her for the next three decades.

I’ll probably rent the DVD just to watch their scenes again and again – finger never straying far from the fast forward button.

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