Youth, danger, fun, rule-busting defiance. That's the juice of rock & roll. It's also the juice in Kick-Ass, a mosh pit of a comic-book movie that dares you to dive into its anarchy. Even when the film swerves off its twisty tracks, there's something potently unslick about the take of Brit director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) on the vision of writer Mark Millar (Wanted). Ever since audiences got a pervy taste of Kick-Ass at July's Comic-Con, tight-asses have been nervously clenching.
The hate is aimed at Hit Girl, an 11-year-old killer with a Mamet mouth, a Tarantino jones for violence and a vigilante Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) who teaches her to avenge the death of her mother. "OK, you cunts, let's see what you can do," hisses Hit Girl, before decimating her enemies with a butterfly knife (a gift from Daddy) in a scene of bug-fuck gore set to the kiddie theme from The Banana Splits. As played in spectacular fashion by Chloe Moretz, 13 — the sis in (500) Days of Summer — Hit Girl, suited up in purple and deliciously unsuited for mass consumption, is a nightmare for the Christian right.
The same goes for the R-rated movie, a roaring blast of rude comic energy done on an indie budget ($30 million) with help from producer Brad Pitt and a profane script by Vaughn and Jane Goldman that glories in breaching Hollywood rules.
Take Kick-Ass himself. That'd be Dave Lizewski (a terrific Aaron Johnson, the young John Lennon in the upcoming Nowhere Boy), a New York high school geek whose only interest besides comics and video games is making deposits in the whack-off warehouse while drooling over the boobs of his English teacher. Ordering a green wet suit off the Internet, Dave turns himself into Kick-Ass, a superhero with a limitation: He has no superpowers. Still, he's a viral sensation on MySpace and YouTube, and is soon the target of a drug cartel headed by Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), who sets up his son Chris (Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as a caped crusader, Red Mist — the idea being to win the trust of Kick-Ass and then betray him. Mintz-Plasse breaks way past the bounds of McLovin to create a complex character of surprising grit.
Still, the movie belongs to Moretz, whose sensational performance will be talked about for years. Her scenes with Cage, who wears a Batsuit and uses a voice borrowed from Adam West, are a hoot. But Vaughn gives his film version of Kick-Ass distinction by showing a keen eye for the broken places in his characters. They live in a world of hurt that's not so easy to laugh off.