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Kick-Ass' Hits No. 1 at the Box Office, But Gets Its Ass Kicked by Prudes

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In a squeaker race for Number One, the debuting Kick-Ass managed to rake in $19.8 million and edge past the $19.6 million earned by the 3-D animated family film How To Train Your Dragon in its fourth weekend. Still, Kick-Ass advocates were expecting $30 million. Why the shortfall? It's easy to blame the R rating slapped on Kick-Ass, based on the 2008 comic written by Mark Millar and drawn by John Romita Jr. You can't have Hit Girl, the film's 11-year-old heroine played by the dazzling Chloe Moretz, going around slaughtering villains like a butcher with a butterfly knife. What is really meant is that you can't have an 11-year-old calling her enemies "cunts." "Morally reprehensibe," harrumphed Roger Ebert.

Really? Really! How many of you who saw Kick-Ass were truly shocked by the Mamet language coming from the mouth of the babe? In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane called Kick-Ass "violence's answer to kiddie porn. You can see it in Hit Girl's outfit when she cons her way past security guards — white blouse, hair in pigtails, short tartan skirt — and in the winsome way that she pleads to be inculcated into grownup excess. That pleading is the dream of every pedophile."

Wow! And here I thought Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman were neatly subverting the comic book genre, letting fantasy bleed into reality. I thought the R rating would keep away the tykes and the intelligence of the script would be plainly apparent to grown-ups who don't need censors to protect them from so-called dangerous ideas. I also refuse to accept that the groundbreaking Kick-Ass is a failure because of controversy and a disappointing box office. Producers, including Brad Pitt, kept the cost down to a modest $30 million, guaranteeing them the right to experiment in ways Hollywood epics can't afford to do. For me, Kick-Ass is a celebration of the independent spirit that is being increasingly devalued by a pop culture that prefers 3-D gimmicks to artful storytelling and placebos to provocation.

What are your feelings about Kick-Ass? Would you like to see the movie thrive or let the moralists drive a stake through its heart?

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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