Review: “Kick Ass” (2010)
WARNING: NOT-SO-SUPER SPOILERS
There always seems to be an audience for this kind of thing: people who buy into the very thing they’re viewing ironically. We’re never as hip as we want to be.
“Kick Ass” is a step removed from superhero movies, since it’s set in a world without super powers, a world more or less like ours, where geeks hang out at comic book stores and talk about superheroes. At the same time it gives us a superhero storyline: the story of an ordinary kid, Dave Lezewski (Aaron Johnson), who one days asks his geek friends: Hey, how comes nobody tries to be a superhero? Then he can’t dismiss the idea. He fantasizes about it, and, as with serial killers (he says in a voiceover—nice comparison), it’s no longer enough to fantasize. He has to act out his fantasies. So he dons a green-and-yellow wet suit, reminiscent of Scorpion’s without the tail, and calls himself Kick Ass. But the first time he tries to stop a crime, involving the same two New York City street toughs who took his money and comic books a few weeks earlier, he gets stabbed in the stomach. The second time, while trying to rescue a missing cat, he stumbles upon a guy getting beat up, and, in the process of holding back his tormenters while getting his ass kicked again, he’s filmed by an Asian dude with a cellphone, who says of the whole affair, “This is fucking awesome!”
That Asian dude is us, by the way. Viewing the world at a remove, through a filter.
Of course the video winds up on YouTube, then in the mainstream media since it’s an “Internet sensation” with more than 20 million hits—or 160 million hits less than Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” One anticipates a storyline of copycats, of people getting involved, since Dave/Kick Ass is someone who, despite having no superpowers, is getting involved. But the movie thankfully doesn’t go in this direction.
It goes in a worse direction. Turns out there’s already a superhero in this world: a secret Batman wanna-be called Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), whose sidekick is his explosive, 11-year-old daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz of “(500) Days of Summer”). These two actually have superpowers—in the way that Batman has superpowers. They’re so expert in martial arts, etc., they can take on mobs of bad guys single-handedly. Unlike Batman, though, they use guns and knives and kill people. Even when the bad guys are running away, they chase them down and kill them. They leave a wide trail of blood.
And that’s the problem I have with the movie. No, not the trail of blood. When Hit Girl first appears, just in time to rescue Kick Ass from, well, dying, from getting cut head to sternum by drug dealers, and then uses her many blades to chop up the bad guys as expertly as a Japanese chef chops up sushi, I wondered, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be an ironic superhero movie? The non-super-powered superhero movie?” But it’s not. Hit Girl is basically Robin, except female, foul-mouthed and sushilicious. She’s basically Batman. We still want the wish fulfillment, in other words, the easy cutting down of bullies and bad guys, we just want it in an ironic, hip form so we can pretend we don’t want it. There’s great dishonesty here.
Hit Girl and Big Daddy are gunning for mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who, 11 years ago, framed Big Daddy, then a cop named Damon Macready, and put him in the slammer. While incarcerated, his wife became a drug addict and died during childbirth. Macready blames Frank, and, when he gets out, he trains both himself and his daughter to combat the mob. They begin to do this about a month before Kick Ass appears. Nice coincidence.
Cage is good, in his good off-kilter way. He plays Macready as a gun-totin’, spooky, psychopath of a loving father, while his Big Daddy borrows the cowl of The Owl, the armor of the Dark Knight, the yellow utility belt of 1970s-era Batman, and the puffed-up cadences of Adam West’s (satirical) Batman. Moretz is good, too, but... I remember when the red-band trailer appeared a few months ago, there was a minor uproar over some of her language. “How will I get a hold of you?” Kick Ass asks. She tells him to contact the mayor’s office. “He has a special signal in the sky?” she says. “It’s in the shape of a giant cock.” See? It mocks the very thing (Batman; superheroes; wish fulfillment) that it’s selling, while pushing the envelope of good taste. Some of us laugh. Me, I just sit in the audience wondering, “Would Macready/Big Daddy be the type of guy to teach his daughter this kind of language? Knives, yes. Guns, yes. But cock jokes? That doesn’t fit with the Adam West voice of propriety.” But I know I’m in the minority.
So Frank the mobster blames all the hits on his men on Kick Ass, and enlists his son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin from “Superbad”), to become yet another superhero, or supervillain, Red Mist, to lure Kick Ass out where he can kill him. It almost works. But Big Daddy gets Frank’s men first. A deeper betrayal is necessary, with more violence and bigger guns.
There’s nothing super here. “Kick Ass” feels like it was made by the stupid stepchildren of Quentin Tarantino. It’s not just substituting crudity for humor, and hipness and self-referentiality for plot and character development; it’s a soulless film. At one point, in a back alley, Frank kills Kick Ass, plus a witness, but it’s actually a kid going to a Kick Ass party. No one gives this kid (or the witness) a second thought—not even Dave/Kick Ass. And why should he? Dave’s own mother (Elizabeth McGovern, believe it or not) died of an aneurysm at breakfast two years earlier, and it’s treated as a sight gag. We see her head flop into a bowl of Honey Puffs cereal. In voiceover Dave tells us, more or less, that life goes on, but it’s less “Life goes on despite the pain we feel from irretrievable loss” than “Life goes on because we feel nothing.”
This is a movie for people who feel nothing but the world at a remove.