The previews for Kick-Ass promised movie-goers a wild ride of gun-totin’, knife-throwin’, ass-kickin’ formerly awkward teens that are taking crime-fighting into their own hands. And that’s exactly what you get… sort of. The ride, so to speak, is a little less wild and whole lot more uneven as the story quickly jerks back and forth between two tales that don’t really seem to know how to intertwine.
The film stars relative newcomer Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, a teen just aching for the world of comic books to come to life. Unable to comprehend why no one might imitate his fictional heroes, Dave decides to suit-up himself and fight crime on the streets as “Kick-Ass.” Things get complicated when he bumps into the far more experienced and skilled super-duo of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), both of whom leave a wake of bodies in their path towards justice. Kick-Ass/Dave begins to find himself in over his head as the antics of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl attract the attention of drug king-pin, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Frank blames the sudden body count on Kick-Ass and as the violence escalates, Dave has to decide whether his desire to do good is stronger than his desire to stay alive.
Unfortunately, Kick-Ass gets off to a frustratingly slow start. Too much exposition is spent on the mundane facts of Dave’s life without setting up his character particularly well. Dave’s narration informs us that there isn’t any big, tragic event that set off his need to become a superman, which feels oddly refreshing. However, without that there’s very little that explains who Dave really is beyond a teenage boy who reads comic books and masturbates, and these details are hardly fascinating. Thankfully, Aaron Johnson’s portrayal of Dave, along with Dave’s interactions with his two best buds (Clark Duke and Evan Peters), help to make him almost instantly likeable.
Once Dave dons his Kick-Ass costume, things begin to pick up and his first attempt at crime-fighting is not only brutally honest and brutally funny, but just plain brutal. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t exactly go as either he hoped or the audience might expect and the whole scene is almost pure genius. It helps endear the audience towards Dave and his new alter-ego and it gives the film this wonderful sense of realism so hard to achieve in such fantastical films.
However, the brilliant honesty of that scene is quickly undone when Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are introduced. It’s as if just when you are beginning to believe you’re in a world where heroes really are regular people, Batman or Superman walks into the room to prove you wrong. Big Daddy and Hit-Girl seem nearly invincible and it’s their traditional superhero quality and story arc that just doesn’t seem to gel with Dave’s nerdy authenticity. The film struggles to keep these two halves of the plot intertwined and it’s often hard to tell what overall mood or feel the movie is really going for. It constantly flips back and forth between extremes leaving some of us caught in the middle.
Luckily, Kick-Ass’s strongest quality is in its action sequences, of which there are plenty. Every fight scene is full of suspense, hilarity and the perfect dose of sheer bad-assery. The violence is definitely kicked up a few R-rated notches from what we’ve seen in things like Spider-man and it absolutely works.
Ultimately, these action-packed scenes in combination with some stellar performances (i.e. Cage in particular) keep Kick-Ass from being completely muddled and underwhelming. The clashing of its dual plot-lines might prevent it from living up to its title, but it can’t stop it from being a gory, hilarious romp through the world of superhero archetypes and clichés.

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