April 16, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Movie Review: 'Kick-Ass' -- GRADE: B+

Review: Superhero flick comes to life with shock value and salty sassiness

Tom Long reviews 'Kick-Ass'
Tom Long reviews 'Kick-Ass': Movie lives up to its name with an over-the-top celebration of comic book style.

Everything you've likely heard about "Kick-Ass" is true, providing you've heard it's profane, outlandish, ultra-violent, shocking, funny and wildly entertaining.

If you've heard it's a movie about bunnies sniffing dandelions, that's not true.

What "Zombieland" did for zombie movies -- that is, celebrate and goose the genre while parodying it -- "Kick-Ass" does in the loudest possible terms for comic book movies.

From its color palette to the fantasy life of its protagonist and the evil empire of its villain, "Kick-Ass" is the classic stuff of comics, and indeed it began life as a Mark Millar comic book series.

But everything here is played in high-camp opera mode, way over the top.

Thus you get Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz, a slice-and-dice murderous 11-year-old who swears like a sailor while smiling sweetly.

Most of the controversy surrounding the movie involves the wisdom (or lack thereof) in letting an 11-year-old girl use language like that.

Very little of the controversy has to do with the fact that the little girl's character probably shoots, guts, gouges and otherwise rips to shreds more than 50 adults in the course of the movie.

Little girls killing people; that's something we can live with. Little girls swearing, on the other hand, now that's upsetting.

Sigh.

"Kick-Ass" is the story of typical teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic book geek who wonders what would happen if somebody actually did put on a costume and try to do heroic things.

So he gets a costume and, assuming the moniker Kick-Ass, tries to dissuade a couple of thugs. That doesn't go so well.

Still, if at first you don't succeed, you get beat up again. And he is more successful in his next mission, thwarting a gang beating, and somebody films his struggle with a cell phone. Soon he's all over the Internet, causing quite the sensation.

Less than thrilled are Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter, Hit Girl. They really are superheroes, in a Batman and really foul-mouthed tiny Robin kind of way.

Daddy has a vengeance thing going for the city's main gangster, and he's trained his daughter to be a one-girl dynamo of death. They can tell Kick-Ass has his heart in the right place, but he's a raw amateur.

This all coalesces into a tale where the three go after the gangster and his many, many doomed thug associates, with yet another superhero type -- Red Mist (played by "Superbad" geek Christopher Mintz-Plasse) -- involved in the mix.

Director Matthew Vaughn, who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman, has plenty of experience when it comes to violence on film. He was a producer on "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," and directed "Layer Cake" -- some of the best British gangster films of the past two decades.

And, in many ways, "Kick-Ass" does share an absurdist-violent tone with those other films, a morbid sense of slash-and-bash comedy.

Here a lot of the film's success comes directly from shock value. The very inclusion of Hit Girl -- and let's face it, she makes the movie and Moretz is a natural -- ups the ante right off the bat.

But Vaughn wisely lets the saltiness and brutality of the film build, zapping the audience with tastes of what's to come. By the time the firefight is going full force, you're stunned but not surprised.

And that's stunned in a good way. "Kick-Ass" is overwhelming entertainment that knocks you to the back of your seat and leaves your jaw hanging. Hit Girl and friends may not be much as role models, but they sure know how to have a good time.

tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Chloe Moretz's foul-mouthed Hit Girl rips to shreds dozens of adults in the course of the absurdist-violent film. / Lionsgate
The exploits of Aaron Johnson, left, that become an Internet sensation ... (Lionsgate)
Aaron Johnson, left, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse star as young heroes. (Lionsgate)