Kick-Ass begins with a suicide played for laughs and climaxes with a man being shot out of a window with a bazooka. If Xbox body counts and snarky teenage boys are your idea of entertainment (and Hollywood has spent billions appealing to such fans), then Kick-Ass may be your bag. Everyone else, abandon all hope ye who enter this tedious, crudely plotted, soulless action film.
The film postures itself as a rude, ironic dark comedy. But there is a deeper cynicism and decadent ugliness to the whole enterprise that suggests a film made to fill the empty hours between Grand Theft Auto and Halo.
Kick-Ass is a superhero genre spin on the nerd-boy-makes-good-and-nabs-the-hot-girl-in-the-process formula. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is the aforementioned alienated geek who admits in voice-over narration that he spends more time masturbating in his bedroom than scoring with the ladies. Screenwriters Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman make a joke about just how pathetic and desperate Lizewski is by showing a picture of his most recent internet lust object: a topless African woman. Casually racist and unremittingly crude, one eventually loses count of the number of times breasts are used for cheap laughs in this brain dead American Pie-meets-Guy Ritchie bouillabaisse of yuks and nunchucks.
Lizewski decides being a superhero would be a noble pursuit and antidote to his apathy. He mail orders a polyester green onesie and dubs himself Kick-Ass, racing out into the urban fray to do good. He's knifed and assaulted by every central casting tattooed thug in sight. The urban wasteland of Kick-Ass is laughably cheap and generic looking, more Toronto back lot than the Big Apple. The filmmakers probably think they can get away with this and other implausibilities (like the crime mac daddy who lives in a sleek, art dealer-worthy apartment) because their undiscriminating audience won't care.
The moxie of Lizewski's geek in green jammies inspires legions of fans including a father-daughter pair of crime fighters, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage, looking exhausted and broken). In the kind of baroque revenge backstory that motivates the pair, Big Daddy has enlisted his daughter to help him kill the mobster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), who landed him in prison and (inadvertently) killed his wife.
The paragon of Kick-Ass's bizarre cast of revisionist superheroes is this 12-year-old lethal Lolita who wields swords and guns with equal aplomb, cutting off bad guys at the knees and impaling mobsters like shish-kabob. Tarantino's cold-hearted homicidal babes are clearly the inspiration for this pedophile's fantasy of a little girl (dressed in school-girl plaid and pig tails no less) with the heart and mouth of a very nasty man.
The idea is surreal, but not as funny as Vaughn, also the film's director, seems to think. He quotes liberally from other directors — Ritchie, Scorsese, and especially Tarantino. Vaughn is a guy so pleased with himself (and suggesting more in common with his adolescent heroes than he might imagine), his idea of product placement is giving his wife Claudia Schiffer a cameo on a billboard in the center of an action scene. Just because.
Based on Mark Millar's comic book series, Kick-Ass unfolds in a moderately familiar world similar to the nihilistic cityscapes of the contemporary Batman and Spider-Man franchises: There are criminals galore, from petty car-jackers to coke-snorting mafioso. But the high school kids are a fairly grim bunch too, wise-cracking, sex-obsessed, shallow YouTube addicts who see violent beatings in parking lots as a chance to whip out their cell phones and upload to the internet.
Kick-Ass exists in a black-hearted world some would argue hardly looks worth saving.