Snark, the conquering hero

Superhero send-up is just lazy enough to work

Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Director: Matthew Vaughn
WorkNameSort: Kick-Ass
Our Rating: 3.00

Dave Lizewski is an archetypal teenage nerd: He can barely talk to girls, he can hardly stop masturbating and he can't stop wondering what would happen if someone took to the streets in a costume and dished out vigilante justice like they do in his precious comic books.

His friends remind him that anyone who pulled such a stunt would likely get himself pummeled, if not killed. (Or, if you're Orlando 'superheroâ?� Master Legend, it could merit a lengthy Rolling Stone profile.) That doesn't stop Dave (Aaron Johnson) from discreetly ordering a wet suit, arming himself with a pair of billy clubs and earning a swift beatdown from some local thugs.

The incident leaves him with fried nerves and steel braces in all the right places, so under the guise of the new moniker, Kick-Ass, and freshly in the YouTube spotlight, Dave catapults himself to fame. He soon draws the attention of local crime lord, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), as well as the father-daughter crime fighting team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), and high-school hottie Katie, who is smitten with Kick-Ass but thinks that Dave must be gay. (This plot point plays out predictably.)

From there, Kick-Ass is at odds with itself, initially trying to be a darkly comic indictment of fanboy fanaticism carried to its logically violent ends ('As any serial killer will tell you,â?� Dave narrates, 'fantasizing just doesn't cut it after a whileâ?�) before succumbing to the very superhero formula that it purports to subvert.

Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) can stage a fight sequence, and he takes a unique approach to each one ' Dave's first real brawl is shot as clumsily as our would-be hero is in his technique. Big Daddy's siege on a warehouse literally pops with every fired bullet and blade thrust, and a climactic rescue set piece employs strobe lighting and slow-motion stylization. When Hit Girl mows down a hallway full of bodyguards to the sound of 'Bad Reputation,â?� it makes for an unlikely, undeniable thrill.

But while Moretz plays each and every scene to the hilt, her character goes from super-human to hyper-vulnerable at the flip of a switch, both the girl-power paragon and preteen in peril whenever dramatic convenience dictates. It's disingenuous enough to suggest that Vaughn wants to flaunt his novelty and beat her, too.

By this point, though, Johnson's character has already tossed off the line, 'With no power comes no responsibility,â?� a significant indicator of how glibly wink-wink the film wants to be. Sure, it's easy to get a kick out of how the arc of a proudly profane Peter Parker would play out, and Cage's Adam West impression is a hoot, but somewhere between homage, lampoon, crime drama and cartoon, Kick-Ass stops caring about the consequences of psychotics pitted against one another and settles for a contest of which characters have the biggest guns.

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