By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010; WE31
Summer has arrived early with "Kick-Ass," a profane, ultra-violent, surprisingly winning adaptation of Mark Millar's comic-book series. Directed by Matthew Vaughnwith verve and a crisp, color-saturated visual sense, "Kick-Ass" should delight fans of the original comics and garden-variety action junkies as well. Suggested subtitle: "Iron Man, You Just Got Served."
Omnipresent newcomer Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, a bespectacled, mild-mannered high school student who, after being mugged for the umpteenth time, wonders why more everyday people don't dress up like superheroes and become vigilantes. Soon thereafter, Dave is dressing up in a green wet suit, yellow rubber gloves and work boots, appropriating the title of the movie as his superhero alter ego and . . . pretty much getting his tushie whipped. When Dave is joined by two mysterious cohorts named Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, however, his success rate begins to spike.
In real life (or at least the movie's version of it), Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are Damon Macready and his 11-year-old daughter, Mindy, who share a passion for knives, guns and heavy-duty ordnance. When we meet them, Damon is shooting Mindy in the chest (with blanks) to teach her how to take a blow.
Although Chloe Grace Moretz's foul-mouthed portrayal of the plucky Mindy has already drawn fire in the blogosphere, Mindy's self-reliance and confidence result in a weirdly reassuring portrait of a young girl who's able to defend herself. What's more, her relationship with her father isn't cynical but genuinely touching (and Nicolas Cage, in his Big Daddy persona, delivers a pretty funny Adam West imitation as the caped Big Daddy).
Too often, movies as besotted with violence as "Kick-Ass" simply ratchet up the action at the expense of everything else. To his credit, Vaughn (best known for the graphic novel adaptation "Stardust") makes sure that the stylized, progressively more fantastical set pieces here are leavened with compensatory humor, a gratifyingly playful tone and characters blessed with smarts and lovability. What's more, he stages "Kick-Ass" with the fluidity and flutter of a comic book itself: The film's penultimate shootout, filmed in flashes of darkness and strobe-lit mayhem, looks like a series of pen-and-ink panels brought to outrageous, outsize life.
*** R. At area theaters. Contains brutal violence throughout, pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity and drug use, some of which involves children. 118 minutes.