Directed by Matthew Vaughn, 2010
At the moment this looks to be on track to probably recoup its production budget in theaters and not much more, which is about as expected, at least for me, but I’ve gotta cop to being a little startled by the level of controversy this thing’s managed to attract. Seriously, did everyone already forget Orphan? ‘Cause Kick-Ass wasn’t even the best foul-mouthed murderous 12-year old actress vehicle of the last year, and from the looks of it now, it might not wind up the highest grossing. (No, really: Orphan made over $75 million worldwide. Ebert gave it three and a half stars!)
Awww, that’s being disingenuous though; a horror movie is expected to be gross and repellent, while superheroes -- by which I mean movie superheroes, a specific, particularly franchise-friendly subset of action movies, just one shelf over from most expensive sci-fi -- are still big beating pistons in the heat engine of the American movie summer, which I think promotes certain expectations about where the content can and cannot go. Plus Kick-Ass had a wall of hype behind it as turn-your-brain-off good times aimed basically at teenagers, R rating or not, which provides easy enough reception for public outrage/dismay. And, anyway, mainline critics/commentators tend to be oversensitive to vivid content by dint of prolonged, sometimes comprehensive exposure to the relative placidity of other works - hence the frankly bizarre reactions from certain quarters to something as innocuously candied as Speed Racer.
What I’m saying is, when I see Chloe Moretz getting punched in the nose by an able-bodied adult male, I’m not lamenting the state of the media so much as wondering why the hell she’s still awake; I mean, not to draw too many comparisons, but when Vera Farmiga karate kicked Isabelle Fuhrman in the face, that girl stayed down. At least Mark Millar made it clear that Hit Girl is out of her mind on drugs during the action bits, which isn’t a logical excuse for cutting dude’s limbs off with a katana or anything, but it at least provides the gloss of ‘real-world’ rationalization that characterizes the whole of Kick-Ass: The Comic. In contrast, Kick-Ass: The Movie is encapsulated by the soundtrack blaring an obvious November Rain knockoff refrain as Our Heroine prepares to take out an entire hallway of villains, i.e. it’s like something you know, only a bit cynically less.
I’ll be blunt now: this just is a dumber version of the comic. Not responsive or subversive, only dumber. It’s the kind of movie where the bit with him outside his love interest’s window ends up in tearful confessions and a romantic sex scene, and later there’s a plaintive conversation about how she’s worried about his superhero activities and other serious parts about the price of being a hero, just like in Spider-Man. Oh, there’s action scenes, ok but noticeably hampered by having a 12-year old anchor a bunch of them; get ready for plenty of tight close-ups and quick cutting, and shiny CG gore, about on the level of Ninja Assassin but half a mile out from Punisher: War Zone. It doesn’t hold a candle to JRJR’s pages, that’s for damn sure, or even the movie version of Wanted.
That’s the best (and most obvious) point of comparison - while Wanted ripped out all but the sickly wish-fulfillment center of the comic and replaced it with its own political subtext and oddball whimsy (PROPHETIC LOOM), Kick-Ass merely waters everything down. I hope you didn’t think the lip-biting racial subtext of the comic was excised, oh no - it’s diluted with the addition of a barely-present positive black character (an ex-partner of Nicolas Cage as: Nicolas Cage who glowers at things) and a more diverse makeup of the non-mobster villains, but Kick-Ass still bursts in on a cartoon monster of a black ex-boyfriend to deliver some hormone-addled hurt, now lead off with a taser gag prominently anticipated by The Hangover. Oh, and this time it’s Kick-Ass’ lady love’s black ex-boyfriend, and he’s still posing as (lol) gay to get close to her, except now after they start fucking there’s some rib-tickling humor about how he (lol) used to accompany her to (lol) girly things because that’s (rofl) gay!!
For every fanboy element that’s played down in-movie, another is senselessly added, from the lolicon augmentation of Hit Girl’s character to an extended homage to first-person shooters. And I mean senseless - for all the trouble I have with Millar’s scripts sometimes, in the end he’s only a less attentive Garth Ennis, swapping out, say, the careful (if caffeinated) interplay of race/class elements surrounding Punisher villain Barracuda with salvos of off-putting character traits reprized at the very end in gotcha! fashion. So both Kick-Ass’ dad and would-be girlfriend wind up in by-all-accounts perfectly happy relationships with black partners while Our Man jerks off alone, having seriously hurt feelings with his gay masquerade. That doesn’t make the character arc successful or interesting, but at least understandable, while the movie is content to turn into Pineapple Express for its closing half-hour. Some might call it more honest, but to my mind it just transforms half-cocked inquisition into plain vanilla pandering.
2009, not 1971
Matthew J. Brady
Spoilers, if it matters.
Sometimes, a movie comes along that manages to recapture a past style so perfectly that one can't help but think it's a lost classic, unearthed for the world to see and glory in. When it comes to 70s blaxploitation films, Black Dynamite is not that movie, but it does seem to come close at times. For a good portion of its running time, it hits all the right notes, coming off as a cross between Black Belt Jones and Dolemite, with just a little bit of self-awareness for those who are paying attention, like acting that's too purposely bad, little wink-nudge moments of goofiness like a bad guy shouting insults backward at a pursuer while driving instead of watching the road and subsequently driving off a cliff, soundtrack songs that comment a bit too specifically on the onscreen events, a character who always speaks in rhyme stopping mid-sentence because he can't figure out how to finish his couplet. It's funny stuff, with some pretty good kung fu too. And then somewhere around the two-thirds mark, characters start mugging to the camera and doing silly shit out of a Naked Gun movie, and the bad guys' plot turns out to involve malt liquor spiked with penis-shrinking drugs. Hoo boy. But just when the whole thing seems like a lost cause, the filmmakers decide to go over the top with their goofiness, leading to a massive kung fu battle and a climactic nunchuk fight against Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, including Lincoln's ghost as a deus ex machina. That's pretty hilarious, and while it's not the "lost" classic that it might seem to be trying to be at first glance, it's a pretty good time. Any movie that starts off with tri-colored nudity in the montage that introduces the main character can't be all bad, right?
Involves Animals, 1995
You ever see this? It's about a pig who is really good at herding sheep, because he's genuinely nice to the sheep and is pretty much able to get them to do magic tricks and backflips as favors. The pig is owned by James Cromwell, and his performance as "stoic farmer who rarely speaks" was good enough to get him an Oscar nomination. He lost out to Kevin Spacey, who played a cripple in some movie about boyfriends.
Babe isn't really the type of movie that you watch because you're desperate to find out how it ends--it's obvious from the very beginning that the movie is going to be conclude with Babe winning a sheep-herding contest--it's the kind of movie you watch because there's kids who want to watch it, or because you're a manic depressive who hasn't been able to afford his medication for a couple of months and you keep thinking about hanging yourself whenever you look at the bathroom door. There's parts of the film that are interesting, but mostly because they seem out of place. (For example, after a sheep gets killed by some stray dogs, the action cuts from the dying sheep freaking out in a really high-pitched voice to a close-up shot of the sheep's dead face after James Cromwell throws the carcass on the back of a trailer. Why do that? The movie isn't realistic by any stretch of the imagination, it's not like it's necessary to get all Upton Sinclair on the viewer.) Most of the film's dialog is coming from the animals, all of whom speak through a mix of puppetry and effects, and while it's much less creepy than those baby commercials where the babies buy stock and make sex jokes, it's still unnerving when the conversations go on for a couple of minutes. For some reason, they all start to look like they're heads going to split in half, like the dog in The Thing.
At the end of the movie, James Cromwell says something nice to the pig, but it's really anti-climactic and strange--something like "good enough, pig. good enough", I can't remember the exact wording. Eventually the credits start rolling, and there's one of those horrible "contemporary" songs featuring the actors who voiced the animals, one of those crappy pop-rap-dance songs that sounds like the product of a focus group, something that was dated in 1995 and sounds even worse now. It's really loud too, and it ruins whatever charm the movie did have, all of which was based around the cuteness of some of the animals. If you're going to watch it, you should turn it off before that song happens.
You probably shouldn't watch it anyway.
-Joe McCulloch, Matthew J. Brady, Tucker Stone, 2010