It could be self-mocking or it could be mocking the very people who keep comic book stores and movies in business. The tone of this latest comic-book adaptation to reach the big screen never settles that argument and never finds its sweet spot.
But when you name your comic and then the movie made from it Kick-Ass, "tone" isn't at the top of your "things I'm fretting over" list.
An awkward blend of ultra-realistic violence, boundaries-bending satire and low comedy, Mark Millar's comic becomes a Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) movie in which not everybody in the cast is on the same page or even the right page.
It's about a nerdy, bored teen (bland Aaron Johnson), "the perfect combination of optimism and naiveté" who decides, since he doesn't have a girlfriend, to spend his free time fighting crime in greater New York. He orders a custom wet-suit "costume," invents a name for himself — "Kick-Ass" — sets up a MySpace page for requests and fantasizes fights in front of the mirror.
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Next thing you know, he's sticking his nose in the middle of fights. One of them is videotaped, and this not-quite-competent vigilante (he's willing to take a beating for justice) becomes a World Wide Web phenomenon. If only the girl he adores (Lyndsy Fonseca) didn't think he was her new "gay BFF."
Meanwhile, a creepy single dad (Nicolas Cage) is training his 11-year-old daughter to help him kick-you-know-what and take names. And call names. "Hit Girl" (Chloë Grace Moretz) has a wicked kick, a ruthless streak and a potty mouth.
Mark Strong (the nemesis in Sherlock Holmes) plays a local crime boss whose nerdy son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, less funny than you'd expect) wants to help Dad deal with his "super-hero problem."
There are explosively funny scenes and moments — often involving an unexpected beat-down — followed by many more moments that make you wince. Some jokes don't land, and most of the cast isn't "out there" enough to make this work. And frankly, comic book writer Millar put an 11-year-old girl in this heroic, object-of-fantasy guise as a full-force slap in the face of fanboydom, which has its warped, fetishize-little-girls-in-school-uniforms side.
Four words that come to the rescue — Nicolas Cage gets it. He plays his gun-nut/gadget-nut/crime-fighter dad as Adam West by way of William Shatner. Lines. Delivered. Word. By. Word. For camp effect.
Dad and his little Hit Girl steal Kick-Ass.
Crude, bloody and moody, Kick-Ass embraces, at arm's length, its fanboy origins. But maybe the filmmakers should have decided before rolling the camera whether they loved these stereotypes or wanted to ridicule them to death.