Low-Power Hero

Who says you need superpowers to be a superhero? The clothes make the man.

Any movie that features a cat named Mr. Bitey is OK in my book. The rescue of the lost Mr. Bitey prompts erstwhile superhero Kick-Ass — also known as run-of-the-mill, hardly noticeable high school kid and comic-book geek Dave Lizewski — to first don his superhero suit.

He does well at feline finding but isn’t as successful in thwarting a couple of punk car thieves — who end up beating him to such a pulp that he’s put in the hospital for big-time surgery.

That’s the catch. Kick-Ass is a superhero with a costume, but no superpowers. He has a dream to fight crime, and a whole lot of gumption, but not much else.

The hospital stay results in his body being filled with structural metal parts, and most of his nerve endings deadened. So he reasons that if it’s now somewhat easier to take a beating (or at least not feel as much pain), it makes sense to don that costume again and hit the streets.

What he doesn’t think about is that there’s a lot worse out there than car thieves.

Kick-Ass the movie comes from Kick-Ass the comic book series, and carries with it the usual load of teenage angst that’s been part of comicbookdom since Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. But this story takes things quite a few steps further. The movie works well as a comedy, with sad-sack Dave pining after the beautiful Katie, who’s only interested in the beautiful Erica. It takes us down the road to revenge with a single dad — and former cop — whose life has been ruined by a drug kingpin. And it veers into folk-hero territory when a video of sorta superhero Kick-Ass in action hits the Internet and goes viral.

Director Matthew Vaughn is now three for three, with the terrific Layer Cake and Stardust already under his belt. He takes the above ingredients, keeps the comic book sensibility from whence they came, and fashions a movie that manages to be equal parts extremely funny and shockingly violent. For instance, it’s got the world’s most loving father practicing rather unorthodox methods of teaching his eager young daughter not to be scared of the big bad world (very funny stuff), and it’s got heroes dispatching villains via swords through the throat.

It’s a movie that’s takes the concept of edge and brings it to new heights. British actor Aaron Johnson, who looks like a young Harold Ramis, manages to combine innocence, bravura, confusion and hard-headedness as Dave/Kick-Ass. Nicolas Cage, this time relegated to supporting-role status as that loving dad who dons body armor and a cowl to become revenge-seeking Big Daddy, does some spot-on mugging, a little heart-tugging, and comically channels Adam West at just the right moments. Wealthy, powerful, ruthless, nasty bad guy Frank is played by Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, RocknRolla), who gives what can only be called another strong Strong performance.

Anyone who saw the mediocre Diary of a Wimpy Kid will recall the sole outstanding character, the bohemian kid Angie, played by young Chlo Moretz. This time she does more scene stealing as the tough, purple-haired, casually foul-mouthed Hit Girl.

The film never backpedals into outrageousness, whether exploring father-child relationships, presenting examples of treachery that lead to tragedy, or filling the screen with guns, knives, fists and flying body parts. (Although, at one point, Vaughn goes all Sergio Leone on us, not just with violence, but with close-ups and spaghetti-Western music.) It has a superb beginning, a satisfying ending, and a middle loaded with surprises. And it’s got Mr. Bitey.

Hollywood of the North: North Idaho and the Film Industry @ Museum of North Idaho

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30
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