Sunday, 28 March 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

* * * *

(Dir. Michael Vaughn, 2010)

After the impressive Layer Cake and the vexing Stardust, Kick-Ass is Matthew Vaughn's most significant directorial feature to date. Marketed as a superhero movie, Kick-Ass could melt any audience (except, perhaps, the most squeamish of bourgeois picture houses) into exchangeable rapids of laughter and dejection. Love, hate or indifferent-to comic books, this is a truly genre-less celluloid, 'illustrating' violence, companionship and observational comedy, paced clinically and coloured prismatically, and with all the power of a cult sensation.

Kick-Ass is the story of ordinary American teen, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who creates for himself an alter-superhero-ego named 'Kick-Ass'. Of course his two, comics-fan friends are not aware of this, and there's something lovably High Fidelity - Rob, Barry and Dick - written into their geek's bona fide. Another comedic backdrop is Dave's / Kick Ass's romance with the high school it-girl, Katie, who lets him into her world mistaking Dave for a gay best friend. Kick Ass's costume - which, at his most self-deprecating, Dave describes as a 'wetsuit' - is a green-and-gold one-piece reminiscent of Cathy Freeman sprinting at Sydney 2000, and which looks especially lousy when Kick-Ass is practising his moves in the mirror, or learning to battle cliched crooks in car parks.

As soon as he appears in public, Kick-Ass is as entertaining and vulnerable an escapist vision as we could hope for. After being filmed defending a victim of ultra-violence, Kick Ass's suddenly enormous popularity on YouTube and MySpace is completely believable, take for instance the recent, overnight Gap Yah phenomenon. A contemporary tapestry of social realism makes for clumsiness-humour at its cringeworthy best. There are classically awkward encounters in the canteen or by the lockers; and in the privacy of a teenager's bedroom, a heap of used Kleenex demonstrates a lust encompassing busty teachers, perplexing pornography and sweetheart crushes.

A twelve-year old would have to be a genuine prodigy in order to steal as clever a film as Kick-Ass from its adult cast, but Chloe Moretz - recognisable from The Amityville Horror (the 2005 remake obviously) and 500 Days of Summer - really is a director's blessing. Never has a gulf in acting talent been more conspicuous onscreen than when Moretz and the parochial Nicolas Cage ( come crashing into the action. These are the real superheroes, Big Daddy and daughter, Hit-Girl, who save our vulnerable faux vigilante and fight the criminals who have mistaken Kick-Ass as a threat, in action sequences of the highest order.

Big Daddy is an intelligent physical and vocal pun on Batman, and his dialogue with Hit-Girl is dainty throughout. But Cage's acting is typically offensive. In a torture-sequence meaning to probe at the depths of our anxiety, Big Daddy screams like a play-acting child demanding his mother's attention, marking a blemish on an otherwise convincing piece of work. And though Aaron Johnson's lead-performance is consistent and strong, Kick Ass's intermittent narration - the diary of an American-dreaming teenager - is bound to get on cynical British nerves, and I was certainly guilty of impatience on this front. Meanwhile Monetz is charming or shocking in her every frame, the very definition of cool in her purple leather; smiling sweetly, murdering brutally, blowing kisses, making swearing funny (which is more difficult than it sounds) and mock-referencing Cat Woman. We can only hope that her early birth into Hollywood will suit Chloe Monetz; that time will sharpen as opposed to blunt her extraordinary potential.

Kick-Ass is concerned with the process of superhero films, just as the original comic book series (by Mark Millar and Johnny Romita Jr) acknowledged its canon. But self-reflexivity in this motion picture is what it should be - an afterthought - as constantly charismatic characters distract even the most stoical of analysts from a moment's philosophising. The 117 minutes of running time, produced by Brad Pitt, disappear like sand through our jittery fingers. The last crystals shimmer as they fall and prequel a second feature I am already excited about. I enjoyed Kick-Ass and would recommend it to anybody wanting a fun, exhilarating night-out.

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