Based on Mark Millar's popular comic series, Kick-Ass begins as a PG-13 delight before eventually turning into an R-rated ordeal. Adaptations of this sort often squarely fit into the more restrictive rating (e.g. Watchmen, Sin City), and Millar's illustrated series certainly isn't for the kiddies. But despite this fact, here's one graphic (in all senses of the word) retelling that would have benefited from a more family-friendly rendition.
The title refers to Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a geeky teenager who loves comic books and wonders why no one has ever mimicked the caped crusaders seen battling evildoers in print. Even though he concedes that his only superpower is being "invisible to girls," Dave decides to don a slick scuba suit and mask and take to the streets to fight crime under the moniker of Kick-Ass.
His first encounter with a couple of street punks ends with him receiving a shiv in his stomach before getting slammed by a speeding car, two incidents that land him in the hospital. Released with damaged nerve endings and a semi-steel body that basically turns him into a Wolverine-with-training-wheels, he again tries his hand at crime-fighting - this time, his skirmish is captured on film and broadcast all over the Internet, turning him into a media sensation.
As long as Kick-Ass remains focused on Dave and his exploits in and out of costume, it remains a clever modern riff on the classic Marvel tale, like watching Peter Parker's travails reimagined for Napoleon Dynamite. But this is only half the movie. The rest involves the efforts of two far more accomplished superheroes, Big Daddy (a woefully miscast Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), to take down a ruthless criminal named Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong, fresh from playing the ruthless criminal in Sherlock Holmes).
Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are the secret identities of ex-cop Damon Macready and his 9-year-old daughter Mindy, and they're both bent on revenge. Make that bloody revenge. A glaring streak of sadism proves to be Kick-Ass's undoing, as the can-do pluck and spirit exhibited in, say, Spider-Man is ignored in favor of unrelenting violence at every turn.
Writer-director Matthew Vaughn (who previously helmed the memorable Layer Cake) and co-writer Jane Goldman might believe it's fair game for the bad guys to get offed in jokey, gruesome ways (most notably the goon who explodes in an oversized microwave), but how funny is it when D'Amico fatally shoots a costumed kid in the head after mistaking him for the real Kick-Ass?
Equally troubling is the handling of the character of Hit-Girl, who, taught by her father, proceeds to kill scores of men (and one woman) by any means necessary (guns, knives, you name it). One character chastises Damon Macready for turning Mindy into a pint-size killer, correctly asserting that this little girl deserves a normal childhood. Yet Kick-Ass then completely ignores this line of thought, allowing Macready to steadfastly remain a good guy and never once questioning the fact that he's turned his daughter into a soulless killing machine.
The third time's the charm thanks to Date Night, a likable lark that just makes the cut due largely to the appeal of stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey. After suffering through the dreadful one-two sucker punch of Did You Hear About the Morgans? and The Bounty Hunter, it's nice to cozy up to a decent comedy that also centers on a marital couple trying to stay one step ahead of murderous thugs. The chemistry between Bounty's Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston was even more non-existent than that between Morgans' Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, but that's clearly not the case here.
As Jersey suburbanites Phil and Claire Foster, Carell and Fey not only bounce off each other as accomplished comedians, but they're also completely believable as a longtime married couple who love each other but worry that all excitement has been drained from their union. On one of their patented date nights away from the kids and other familial obligations, they opt to forego the usual salmon ‘n' potato skins at the local dive in order to head to Manhattan for a swanky dinner at a posh new seafood restaurant. Unable to secure seats (as the haughty maitre d' informs them, reservations are required a month in advance), they decide to pose as the Tripplehorns when the latter-named fail to turn up when their table is called.
Unfortunately for Phil and Claire, their impulsive act leads to a case of mistaken identity straight out of Alfred Hitchcock: As in North by Northwest and Saboteur (to name but two), good people find themselves running from dangerous villains while trying to clear their names and escape with all vital organs intact. Shawn Levy is a mediocre director at best (Night at the Museum, ill-advised remakes of The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen), which explains why the movie grinds to a dead halt whenever the attention shifts from the leading players' personalities to the usual bouts of gunplay and vehicular destruction.
But the film clicks whenever Carell and Fey are allowed to fully engage each other, whether they're serving up the anticipated comic riffs or, somewhat unexpectedly, settling down to discuss the commonplace difficulties faced by married couples who feel they can no longer surprise (or even excite) their partners. And while most of the supporting characters are stock (crooked cops, sleazy mob kingpin, sassy babysitter, etc.), there's a nice contribution by Mark Wahlberg as a buff security expert whose religion apparently prohibits the donning of shirts - this macho man's perpetual refusal to cover his bulging pecs proves to be a bright running gag.