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film review: Kick-Ass

by Leonard Maltin
April 16, 2010 4:00 AM
8 Comments
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At the risk of sounding completely un-cool, I must admit I had wildly mixed feelings about Kick-Ass. I understand the filmmakers’ desire to fulfill fanboys’ fantasies and, at the same time, provide shock value for the rest of the audience—especially anyone who might be offended by mind-numbing violence or truly crude language from the lips of an 11-year-old girl. But the two concepts don’t easily gel.

What’s more, the movie opens on what turns out to be a deceptive note of sincerity. High-school geek Dave Lizewski (well-cast newcomer Aaron Johnson) dreams of becoming a superhero named—

—Kick-Ass, not just to break free from nerd-dom but because he genuinely wants to help people. His fledgling efforts are doomed to failure, but he doesn’t give up.

In a parallel story, we meet a loving father, played by Nicolas Cage (in a deliciously deranged performance) who is busily training his 11-year-old daughter to become a hit-man. He and she are the real superheroes of the story, a vigilante duo whose paths are destined to cross Dave Lizewski’s.

The versatile British actor Mark Strong, who’s done such fine work in Body of Lies, The Young Victoria, and other recent films, is cast as an iron-willed Italian-American crime boss who’s also a family man. (His son, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse--aka McLovin—also plays a role in Kick-Ass’s ultimate fate.)

So far, so good; at a certain point I would have labeled the film a guilty pleasure, with some potent shock-value moments and flamboyant comic-book mayhem. But the filmmakers—writer-director Matthew Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman, working from Mark Millar’s blueprint and comic book and John Romita, Jr.’s artwork—have no restraint. The film runs nearly two hours, which dilutes rather than strengthens its impact, and the longer it goes, the wilder it gets.

On one level, I can appreciate the twisted novelty value of having a pint-sized girl become a foul-mouthed killing machine, but seeing it on a printed page is one thing; having it come to vivid life on the big screen is another matter. I felt queasy, even as some people around me were laughing.

Even if you’re depicting a so-called comic book world, there comes a point when meanness, torture, and ultra-violence can’t easily be written off as “fun.” At least, not in my book. Some movies have managed to pull this off, so perhaps it’s a matter of tone, or artful writing, or that most subjective of commodities, taste. All I know is, this movie, for all its flashy visuals and occasionally clever ideas, left a bad taste in my mouth.

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8 Comments

  • Jason | July 10, 2010 10:31 AMReply

    I guess like Layer Cake and Stardust, director/co-writer Mathew Vaughn has some good ideas and material with Kick-Ass but lacks the talent to turn it into something special or unique.

  • Lloyd | May 6, 2010 5:23 AMReply

    I thought this movie was a hoot, sure it is rated R and there is a lot of violence, and the foul mouthed girl who is 11 but that is why it is called a movie, and why we go to movies for escapism. I thought it was more fun than the long boring Avatar!

  • Jeremiah Daws | April 20, 2010 1:49 AMReply

    Thanks for the review, Leonard. I haven't seen the film. I had the same concerns that you brought up after seeing the trailer. Your review was refreshing - nice to know there is at least one reviewer out there with a conscience asking 'How far is too far?'

  • Luke | April 19, 2010 4:10 AMReply

    I completely agree.

  • Ian | April 18, 2010 11:36 AMReply

    Jane Goldman isn't Matthew Vaughn's wife. Matthew is married to Claudi Schiffer. Jane Goldman is married to Jonathan Ross, a UK chat show host/TV presenter.

  • Charlie Cooper | April 17, 2010 11:34 AMReply

    I got to see this at a 10 pm showing on Thursday the 15th. Honestly, I liked it. I can see where this movie might not be enjoyable to everyone. It is super violent, and the fact that a foul mouthed, prepubescent girl is the one doing most of it could rub many people the wrong way. Thinking back, I was surprised Dave/Kick-Ass didn't question this violence at least once given his background and interests, which led him to super-heroics in the first place. But, clearly this was not meant to be a philosophical film (Though the creators want to do a sequel with Hit-Girl experiencing a History of Violence type of situation, so we'll see how that goes).

    Cage was great as a loving, yet crazy father. I also loved his Adam West-esque Big Daddy. Dave's lines as well as his friends and girl friend were very humorous and provided some much needed breaks from the action and violence. Also, I'm in full agreement of the goo performances by the rest of the cast.

    While, I don't know if it is a question of taste, I do think it largely has to do with target audience and the realism they were originally shooting for. I am 23 and everyone at the showing i went to was in my age group. The movie is self started out realistically, but just kept getting more outrageous the further it went on, as you say yourself.

    To me though, this was just a fun movie. Not the best of the few I've seen this year so far, but up there, and certainly far from the worst. And considering the kinds of movies that have come out over the years and the ones that will come out in the future, I doubt Chloe Moretz's cursing, killing machine is going to have that big of an impact in the long run.

  • Jason | April 17, 2010 7:04 AMReply

    I'm really getting tired of films like this which have a fun idea but decide they have to drag it out for two hours (or MORE) to the point where it's just mind-numbing and off-putting. I liked Kick-Ass for the most part but I think filmmakers need to learn when they are making something engaging to watch and when they are just wasting the audience's time (at the risk of alienating them).

  • YR | April 17, 2010 4:38 AMReply

    Matthew Vaughn is married to Claudia Schiffer (who can be seen on a billboard in one scene). Jane Goldman is married to UK television presenter Jonathan Ross.

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