For those of us who find somber superhero movies faintly ridiculous, Kick-Ass is a one-film justice league. It might be the best recruiting tool the geek squad ever had, puncturing fanboyish obsessions and reinvesting them with passion. Slyly, the movie starts off with a sick joke—an awful skyscraper leap by a pretender in a winged costume. (Too bad the title Jackass was already taken.) Only a little later, our self-admittedly bland high-school hero, Dave (the likeable Johnson), buys a turquoise scuba suit and quickly finds himself gut-stabbed by amused thugs. Peter Parker had it easy.
Kick-Ass, briskly adapted by British screenwriter Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn from Mark Millar’s savage comic, has a lot more on its mind than approximating a live-action Wile E. Coyote sketch. Dave dangerously accrues fame through a cruddy viral video, resulting in plenty of innocent carnage. Meanwhile, real-life criminals get pissed off and the laughs start to hang in your throat. Vaughn (Stardust) knows he’s on to more of a giddy-nauseating satire of vigilantism than anything square-jawed; he lunges at ideas of unearned celebrity via a pot-smoking spoiled supervillain called the Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse, seriously upping the ante from Superbad’s McLovin).
By the time we get around to a stunning 11-year-old (Moretz) chopping the legs off goons with amoral glee, it’s hard to miss the subversive point—that ass-kicking fantasies make more sense as the ambitions of sugar-addled kids. (Expect gasps.) The emotions, however, are adult-sized: A paternal turn from Nicolas Cage is a hint of what his aborted Superman might have been—an overwrought hoot.—Joshua Rothkopf
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