Kick-Ass: Fanboys and bad girls 

Kick-Ass (R)

Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Kick-Ass comes to us with a little bit of built-in controversy. Its title alone — at once an adjective, an imperative verb and a proper name — might strike some joyless fussbudgets as a touch too syntactically cavalier, or at least just plain impolite.

Well, as a matter of fact, it's not just ass. It's chest, and face, and groin and extremities. And it's not just kicking. It's shooting, and slicing open, and blowing to bits and popping like a grape. So you could say that by comparison to the movie itself, the title deserves congratulations for its good manners and restraint.

The movie itself is vividly silly and self-debauching. Adapted by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s comic, Kick-Ass concerns a teenaged fanboy and wannabe superhero (Aaron Johnson) who decides to become an actual superhero, called Kick-Ass, but becomes a viral-video curiosity instead. I hate to reveal all the pulpy, plotty details, but an Adam West-referencing Nicolas Cage gets involved, as does Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in a part potentially even more enduring than his turn as McLovin in Superbad. And there's another very memorable character, but more about that momentarily.

There is also some murky, blackly comedic commentary about that special brand of social isolation which results from all the shallow posturing of online life. But mostly Kick-Ass concerns itself with the kicking of ass, and aforementioned related activities.

It's hard to know — or care, really — whether all of this is innocently cynical or cynically innocent. Kick-Ass does have a peculiar transgressive appeal, at least for viewers who might say to themselves, "Ah, excellent — I've been waiting for a film about dorks and superheroes in which one of the characters is an 11-year-old girl who calls people cunts and then kills them violently!" Others will be glad these viewers aren't likely to rear children of their own anytime soon.

This young character is, of course, the other memorable one. She's called Hit Girl, and is at least partly responsible for any Kick-Ass controversy. To be fair, it should be pointed out that movies have seemed to require un-little-girl-like behavior from little girls for years; indeed, there's another lass of about the same age using similar language on screens right now in Fish Tank. But she's of the English working class, with fewer advantages generally, and less access to the privilege of cartoonishly stylized serial homicide in wide release. So perhaps it is different.

As for little Chloe Grace Moretz, the scene-stealing co-star of Kick-Ass, it's hard to guess what her post-Hit Girl life, which is almost entirely ahead of her, will be like. Maybe she could play Anne Frank on Broadway. That worked for Natalie Portman.

Reactions may vary, but as I watched Kick-Ass I noticed that a young guy in the audience behind me kept saying, "What the fuck?!" The Hit Girl scenes in particular seemed to really set him off. And he had so many different inflections: delighted, astonished, maybe even occasionally mortified. What? The? Fuck?! He just kept on saying it, and the film just kept on provoking him. If Kick-Ass has a target audience, I figure, this guy probably is it. It's fun to imagine him telling his friends about what he saw that night. Maybe even more fun than the movie itself.



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