It’s the greatest introduction of a movie character in at least 10 years, the moment when Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) makes the scene. I’ll say no more about it — except that you won’t find many 11-year-olds who can upstage Nicolas Cage. Also, she arrives not a minute too soon, transforming Kick-Ass from an okay comic-book-hero parody into something approaching genius.
|Kick-Ass | Directed by Matthew Vaughn | Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic-book series by Mark Millar | with Nicolas Cage, Chloë Grace Moretz, Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, and Lyndsy Fonseca | Lionsgate | 117 minutes|
The okay-parody part concerns the unorthodox superhero of the title. High-school geek Dave Lizewski (Harry Potter look-alike Aaron Johnson) doesn’t have a lot going for him, especially when it comes to the ladies. Then it occurs to him, why not become a superhero? That surely will get him a date with the hottest girl in school, Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca). In addition, he’ll be able to put into practice his crazy idea that when a gang is beating up a hapless victim and a bunch of bystanders stand around recording it on their cell phones for future YouTube play, someone should intervene.
Besides, what more would it take than a costume, some moderately developed motor skills, and a total disregard for personal safety? He’s surprised nobody has come up with the idea already. (He and the filmmakers don’t seem to have read Watchmen — and that might be the only comic book they’ve overlooked, since they make reference to Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc., as well as Al Capone and Tony Montana.) Dave orders a costume by mail and is ecstatic when it arrives. True, it just might be the ugliest outfit in comic-book history, a teal ninja thing with gold trim, and riot batons holstered on the back like a pair of unopened beach umbrellas. And the first adventures don’t go so well. When at last Dave intrudes on the turf of mob kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), Hit-Girl and her daddy, Big Daddy (Cage), must intervene, the latter making the obvious observation — followed by a weird Bad Lieutenant–like snicker — that maybe Kick-Ass should change his name to “ass kicked.”
Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are also into the vigilante-costumed thing, but with an agenda that proves to be — though ingeniously related via comic-book graphics — one of the less interesting parts of the movie. Not that Cage isn’t hysterically mannered in his role, in which he evokes by turns Ward Cleaver and Adam West.
But Big Daddy would have gotten tiresome without his hyperkinetic chip off the old block. In a purple fright wig, her cherub face twisted into a bloodthirsty leer under her mask, Hit-Girl soars like the killer rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as she engages in balletic carnage that would impress Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Watching this four-and-a-half-foot-tall schoolgirl — a type that is usually the epitome of movie victimization — rise up, lay waste to legions of bad guys, and battle to save the day should rouse everyone’s inner child to cheers of vindication.
These bravura performances almost overshadow co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn’s fluid, multi-formatted narrative, his skill at addressing issues (voyeurism, apathy, celebrity worship), and a soundtrack that includes excerpts from Mozart’s Idomeneo, Ennio Morricone’s For a Few Dollars More, and Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” Will Vaughn be back for the blatantly set-up sequel, which will feature the treacherous Red Mist (a terrific Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as a kind of Green Goblin redux? More important, by that time, will Moretz be too old to play?