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Kick-Ass

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er and a former cop who now dresses like Batman and affects Adam West's pause-prone diction once behind the cowl.

The more, the merrier, because the town is under siege by a drug kingpin (Mark Strong, "Sherlock Holmes") who doesn't like that his cronies are being picked off by costumed vigilantes.

Much has been made over the Hit-Girl character's potty mouth and murderous tendencies, which is kind of a shame, because it detracts from the fact that this is Moretz's breakthrough. Just as the character steals the book, she steals the movie, leaving leading-man Johnson in the dust. Even with her pigtails and sideways smile, she's believable as a pint-sized lethal weapon. In the graphic novel, written by Mark Millar ("Wanted") and illustrated by John Romita Jr., she's hilariously described by Dave as "like John Rambo meets Polly Pocket. Dakota Fanning crossed with 'Death Wish 4.'"

Although the film closely follows Millar's text until the third act, one wishes it retained more of its acid wit. For all of its absurd situations, "Kick-Ass" isn't that funny. Part of that is by design: It purposely turns dark toward the end to pull the proverbial rug from underneath your feet, but the comedic sequences don't carry much actual comedy. Instead, director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn ("Stardust") literally lets the punches be the punch lines, so if the sight of people being pummeled is funny to you, prepare to bust a gut.

I didn't dislike "Kick-Ass." With the strong caveat that it's not for everyone "? kids especially "? it offers something other than your average superhero movie, even if, like "Shaun of the Dead," it ultimately becomes the very thing it parodies. Just as Millar's "what if?" plot took a satirical look at the genre, so does Vaughn, in a film whose look alternates between Day-Glo and overexposed. But once more, the book is better "? and filthier "? than the movie. "?Rod Lott

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