In addition to being wildly entertaining, “Kick Ass” proves to be very well made, elevating it from the guilty pleasure you may have been expecting to a ripping good yarn well told.
Director Matthew Vaughn has raised his game since “Layer Cake,” his blandly stylish Guy Ritchie rip-off from 2004. The first sign that this film is more than a goofy-fun ride comes when Kick Ass is up on a billboard trying to save Mr. Bitey, a wayward kitty. Suddenly, the banality of the moment is shattered by the sight of a man running for his life – it’s a kinetic, desperate scene of hard breathing and bouncy camerawork reminiscent of any number of foot races from the Bourne series.
Throughout the film, the tone shifts seamlessly from dumb fun to hardcore crime-action drama, a transtion Kevin Smith failed at so miserably in “Cop Out.” Where Smith was flipping a switch from goofball to shoot-‘em-up, Vaughn turns a knob, carving an arc for his characters that makes things work.
The film features not one, but two performances from young stars poised for big years. Chloe Moretz last year stole every scene of “(500) Days of Summer” that she appeared in as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s kid sister who counsels him through his heartbreak. But where that turn left people asking, “Who was that little kid?” her turn as Hit Girl in “Kick Ass” has her names on the lips of every casting director and movie nerd in America.
Much of Moretz's appeal is centered on the idea of watching a 12-year-old gleefully murder drug dealers while swearing like a sailor. Can you even remember the last time you heard an American drop a C-bomb in a film? God bless the Brits for their mastery with that most taboo of words. But make no mistake, Moretz is the real deal, not some Anna Chlumsky flash-in-the-pan.
Aaron Johnson is the true standout in the role of Kick Ass/David Lizewski. To watch his sloped-shouldered dopey teen morph into an upright crimefighter, you’d never guess it’s the same British kid who gave such a taut, angry turn as a young John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy.”
In addition to the newcomers, old friend Nic Cage gives a performance for the ages, one that hearkens back to his “Raising Arizona” glory days. At the core of his Big Daddy is a pitch perfect caricature of Adam West’s Batman. But Cage smartly keeps himself in check, not going so deep into the West as to render Big Daddy’s shifts in mood discordant.
"Kick Ass" is also packed with great music that is well deployed. Prodigy's "Stand Up," Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation," Ennio Morricone "For A Few Dollars More," "The Banana Splits" covered by The Dickies... all hit the right notes at the right times.
There are, of course, some missteps aong the way. There's some inexplicably cheesy looking greenscreen work and some of the back-lot sets of New York, NY, look more like the Vegas hotel than the actual city.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse is miscast as an aspiring villain. It's not his fault, its just hard to take him seriosuly as any sort of threat. Breaking away from McLovin would've been a lot easier for him if he hadn't followed it up with his ren-faire nerd in "Role Models," but he did, so he really brought this on himself.
And the end is just absurd. Of course the entire premise of the film is ridiculous, but there are limits...
Just the same, though "Kick Ass" isn't the best film of the year thus far, it is the most fun.