Kick-Ass *** 1/2
Director Matthew Vaughn has made a superhero action comedy that is seriously, nastily violent, both satirizing the excesses of superhero flicks and showing genuine, hurtful consequences of the cartoon action Hollywood serves up. As an 11-year-old masked vigilante named Hit Girl, Chloe Grace Moretz simply owns this movie.
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The filmmakers behind Hollywood's latest superhero flick have declared war on family values.
"Kick-Ass" is bad news for lovers of all that is gentle and wholesome. But it's great news for fans itching to laugh dementedly as a little girl in a neon purple wig cusses like Tony Soprano and fires kill shots to the heads of many bad guys.
Director Matthew Vaughn has made an action comedy so bloody funny - double emphasis on bloody - fans might need to see it again just to catch the gags they missed from laughing so hard the first time.
The film is seriously, nastily violent, both satirizing the excesses of superhero flicks and showing genuine, hurtful consequences of the cartoon action Hollywood serves up.
As an 11-year-old masked vigilante, supporting player Chloe Grace Moretz simply owns this movie, deliriously complemented by Nicolas Cage as her doting but dotty dad.
That's not to take anything away from Aaron Johnson, solid but rather bland by comparison in the title role as a teen who takes on a superhero alter-ego and bumbles out to fight crime - without a trace of the special powers that usually go with the job.
It's just that in Cage and Moretz' Batman-and-Robin-style duo, Vaughn and comic-book writer Mark Millar have created one of the sharpest - and certainly most lethal - father-daughter combinations ever to hit the screen.
With a screenplay by Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Stardust") and Jane Goldman, "Kick-Ass" is based on Millar and artist John S. Romita Jr.'s comic book, a series so fresh its eight installments were still being published as the film was shot.
Johnson (who stars as the young John Lennon in the upcoming "Nowhere Boy") plays Dave Lizewski, an average New York City comic-book geek who wonders why real people don't sally forth to become superheroes.
Buying a sleek wetsuit online for his costume, Dave rebrands himself as Kick-Ass, who quickly suffers for his hapless presumption in taking on brutal street thugs.
Yet Dave's pluck and resilience - plus a YouTube video of his exploits recorded by a bystander - turn him into a folk hero, making him a target for crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).
Dave also comes to the attention of Damon Macready (Cage) and daughter Mindy (Moretz), true, hardcore caped crusaders who go by the names Big Daddy and Hit Girl and possess the skills and weaponry to really take a bite out of crime.
The three heroes wind up in an epic battle against D'Amico and his heavies - including his son, a supervillain wannabe hilariously played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
The movie bogs down here and there in side stories involving Dave's geek pals (Clark Duke and Evan Peters) and the high school hottie (Lyndsy Fonseca) Dave dreams about.
Mostly, though, "Kick-Ass" hurtles along breathlessly, from a brilliant opening gag to a climax whose action is hysterical but also disturbing, when Vaughn lifts the veil on the Hollywood silliness to show real, vulnerable people being hurt.
The filmmakers lined up independent financing to make "Kick-Ass," saying Hollywood studios were interested only if the action were toned down to the PG-13 range and Hit Girl were dropped from the picture.
If that had happened, the movie would have been a mild butt bump rather than the fierce kick in the behind it is. And it would have denied audiences the chance to see a wonderful young talent playing her heart out with no restraint.
With Hit Girl, Moretz is this year's It Girl, alternately sweet, savage and scary. Tearing about like the Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil, Moretz makes you believe she really could beat the stuffing out of grown men two or three times her size.
It'll never happen, but she deserves a supporting-actress nomination come Academy Awards time.
Following last year's deranged "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," Cage creates another delightful madman, both as staccato-voiced Big Daddy and the vengeful Macready - who, twisted as he is, proves as loving a father as Ward Cleaver.
Prequel, please. Let's find out more about how Damon and Mindy became Big Daddy and Hit Girl in the first place.