Despite his solidly middle-class family and scrawny physique, Dave (Aaron Johnson) is unpersuaded that his superhero dreams are doomed to fail. So he buys a green-and-yellow SCUBA suit, sets out to fight crime and...almost gets himself killed for his troubles. This does not deter him; and, when one of his heroic escapades is captured on amateur video, Kick-Ass the Superhero goes viral. An anonymous star is born.
That's the basic premise of Kick-Ass, a scrappy, weird little superhero movie directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) and adapted (by Vaughn and Jane Goldman) from the graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romia, Jr. Kick-Ass is fast, furious, extremely violent and sporadically funny as it both satirizes and embraces the clich?s of action movies.
Kick-Ass soon discovers that he's not the only do-it-yourself superhero in Manhattan. Notably, there's Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), who sports a Batmanesque rubber suit, and Daddy's little girl Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a leather-jumpsuited spitfire in a mask and purple wig. Hit Girl, it must be said, totally rocks: She's equally deadly with a katana sword, a switchblade and a gun.
Moretz, who is now 13, was only 11 when she played the potty-mouthed, super-violent Hit Girl, which has prompted consternation in some quarters about the exploitation of child performers in movies that they are not old enough to see themselves. This issue seems to pop up every now and then - Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Natalie Portman in The Professional - and aside from hand-wringing, nothing much ever comes of it. Indeed, Shields, Foster and Portman all seem to have survived both being child performers and Ivy League students. Whether it's the language or the violence in Kick-Ass that's setting off alarm bells, the movie fully and consciously intends to push those buttons - and so it does.
Hit Girl and Big Daddy are vigilantes who are particularly intent on destroying a drug kingpin named Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). D'Amico thinks that it's Kick-Ass who's after him, so his teen son Chris hatches a plan to catch the superhero by inventing yet another superhero, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Before long, Gotham is crawling with superhero wannabes.
Kick-Ass has got the usual complement of teen boy troubles - he's ignored by girls, except for the hottie who thinks that he's her gay BFF - to go along with the superhero sturm und drang. But never mind him; he's not actually that interesting. Well, okay, what's moderately interesting about Kick-Ass is that he regularly gets the snot beat out of him: He bleeds real blood and never develops any discernible fighting skills, yet he continues to fight the good fight until it becomes too much of a drag for him.
Hit Girl and Big Daddy are far more compelling. Cage does one of his fun-'n'-creepy weirdo turns here as a father who brainwashes his little girl, creating the perfect avenging angel assassin. He's nuts, and it's child abuse, of course; but he adores his daughter, and Hit Girl loves her Daddy and seems to be having a good time. Plus, she's got mad skills and the weapons are the neatest. (Cage also has Big Daddy talk in an Adam West-as-Batman voice: an incongruously funny bit of campy homage for a guy who takes his crimefighting very seriously.)
Moretz, with her cutiepie looks and voice, completely holds her own as the wall-climbing, knife-throwing, guns-a-blastin' half-pint killer. She and Cage are great together; and at any rate - aside from a quick backstory that reveals the source of Big Daddy's animus for D'Amico - the movie's not terribly motivated to dig into this nutty and unsettling parent/child relationship. It might be quite interesting if it did, but there's little time for that with so many bad guys to annihilate.
The movie ends with a big blowout: a battle royale in which Kick-Ass has to decide if he's really a superhero or just a poseur. To end an action movie with a big ol' fight is de rigueur, and Kick-Ass isn't so original that it's going to forgo that tradition. Nonetheless, it's in the denouement that Kick-Ass puts a (slightly) new spin on the superhero story: Hit Girl was groomed for vengeance from toddlerhood, but Kick-Ass has to will himself to heroism, setting aside fear, ineptitude and a pretty lame costume if he's going to kick some bad-guy ass.