Kick-Ass -- Film Review

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AUSTIN -- Moving the fanboy wish fulfillment scenario of "Spider-Man" a couple of steps further toward the real world (though certainly not all the way there), "Kick-Ass" delivers an awkward Everykid who succeeds (eventually) as a crime-fighter without the benefit of super powers or, frankly, a whole lot of smarts.

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If the film's extreme violence will counteract its good-natured humor for some multiplex audiences (since when do caped crusaders go out of their way to kill the bad guys?), its balancing act between innocence and gore perfectly matches the expectations of genre fans, who should embrace the movie.

Shot in an artificially-sweetened color palette by DP Ben Davis, the picture introduces a bit of "American Pie" to the comics world: Horny and hapless Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), in between fantasizing about his English teacher's breasts, wonders why no comic-book fan has ever been moved to make his own mask and give crime-fighting a try.

Fashioning a costume out of a green scuba suit and dubbing himself Kick-Ass, Dave goes in search of evil schemes to foil and nearly winds up dead. But he attracts the attention of more gifted crimefighters -- a combat-trained preteen girl (Chloe Moretz) and her dad (Nicolas Cage), a former policeman -- and the villain they're stalking (Mark Strong), whose rich-kid son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) wants in on the mask-and-cape game as well.

Johnson, true to his character, lets himself be upstaged by his costars -- especially Moretz, who with "Kick-Ass" has gone from voicing Winnie the Pooh cartoons to slicing up drug dealers with a samurai bloodlust Quentin Tarantino would appreciate. Though the movie initially wants to stay rooted in the real world, it stops trying when her "Hit Girl" is onscreen -- the tween character is straight out of "The Matrix," and it's only Moretz's likeably ludicrous tough-girl act that holds things together. (As her dad, Nic Cage bolsters his portfolio of quirky performances and might make viewers wish he had been allowed to play Superman for Tim Burton way back when.)

The pic's nearly two-hour running time would fit a conventional comic-book action film, but "Kick-Ass," closer to a goofy teen comedy than an operatic hero franchise, feels a bit stretched at that length. Closing scenes, naturally, pave the way for a sequel, but it's difficult to believe the filmmakers could keep the balancing act going for another installment.

Venue: South By Southwest Festival
Opens: Friday, April 16
Production companies: Marv Films, Plan B Entertainment
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriters: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Producers: Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid, Kris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Russell De Rozario
Music: Marius DeVries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman, John Murphy
Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon
Editors: Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris
Rated R, 117 minutes