Movies: Kick-Ass * * *
Most mere parodies wear out their mocking intent and welcome within the first half hour and spend the rest of their time boring themselves and us to death by repeating the joke. If all they are about is pastiching another film or genre, they're pretty tiresome. However, in fairness, Kick-Ass aims a good deal higher than that.
Written by Jane Goldman (Mrs Jonathan Ross) and Mark Millar, and based on the popular comic book series by Millar and John Romala Jr, Kick-Ass is a kind of anti-superhero movie in which concerned and sometimes deranged citizens adopt a DIY approach to crime-fighting.
Dave Lizweski (Aaron Johnson, who recently played John Lennon in Nowhere Boy) is an ordinary if rather geeky teenage New York boy. Unhappy with his lack of success with the ladies and sick of feeling powerless (he and his buddies are regularly bullied), Dave decides to emulate the superheroes from the comic books he constantly absorbs.
No one to date has tried being a superhero for real, so he buys a fetching green wetsuit and mask, straps a couple of fighting sticks to his back, dubs himself Kick-Ass and sets out to put the world to rights.
At first his campaign does not go well. He's badly beaten when he confronts two street thugs and hit by a passing car when he tries to flee. Recovering in intensive care, however, he's content: he has proved that Kick-Ass can take a beating, and as soon as he's back on his feet, he resumes his amateur crime-fighting. When he interrupts a gang attacking a victim, he saves the man's life. What's more, a bystander records the event on his phone, and Kick-Ass becomes an overnight YouTube sensation.
In the time-honoured tradition, Dave keeps his identity secret, but when he discusses Kick-Ass with his friends, they are sceptical. He has no powers, they say, and is going to get himself killed. Dave reminds them that Batman had no superpowers either, but is given food for thought.
Little does he know there's a real Batman of sorts at work in the city. 'Big Daddy' (Nicholas Cage) has a grudge against Manhattan crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), and he and his terrifying 11-year-old daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) have been targetting D'Amico's employees.
When Kick-Ass goes to the lair of a drug dealer to confront the man in order to impress a girl, his life is saved by the arrival of Hit Girl, who high kicks and backflips and boasts a terrifying array of knives and guns. She and her father see Kick-Ass as an amateur, but his courage eventually wins their respect and they set out to bring D'Amico down together.
From start to finish, Kick-Ass trades in a knowing black humour that aims to shock and often does. Nicholas Cage is tremendous fun as Big Daddy, a gun-crazy loon who toughens up his daughter by shooting her in the bulletproof vest and whose desire for vengeance has -- to put it mildly -- made him lose perspective as a parent. He even finds time to mock the staccato delivery he has often been derided for, and is the best thing in the film.
Mark Strong is pretty funny, too, as the stressed out gangster, and Aaron Johnson has an undeniable on-screen charisma. Most of the film's shock value comes courtesy of Chloe Moretz and her Hit Girl, who does unbelievably violent things to people and swears like a trooper -- she even says the 'c' word.
Some of this is very funny, and the action sequences, in fairness, are very good, if shamelessly derivative of Hong Kong films via Quentin Tarantino, but there's something unsettling about watching an 11-year-old girl slitting people's throats and -- even worse -- being beaten up by a grown man.
The film's makers will argue this is cartoon violence, but it's pretty gory all the same. And when you get beyond the shock value and the black humour, there isn't really a great deal else to enjoy.