Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Theaters: KICK-ASS 2 (2013)

(US/UK - 2013)

Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow.  Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Clark Duke, Donald Faison, Iain Glen, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Lindy Booth, Andy Nyman, Benedict Wong, Garrett M. Brown, Yancy Butler, Matt Steinberg, Claudia Lee, Augustus Prew, Lyndsy Fonseca, Daniel Kaluuya, Tom Wu, Olga Kurkulina, Ella Purnell, Tanya Fear. (R, 105 mins)

Matthew Vaughn's 2010 film version of the controversial Mark Millar-written/John Romita, Jr-illustrated comic book was, like its source, an acquired taste.  Moments of extreme violence combined with a little girl using some of the most over-the-top gutter language imaginable outraged some, while others--myself among them--found it funny and quite inspired.  Vaughn is still onboard as producer for the sequel, handing the franchise over to writer-director Jeff Wadlow, whose previous credits include the 2005 slasher film CRY WOLF and the 2008 teen martial arts actioner NEVER BACK DOWN.  Lightning doesn't strike twice with KICK-ASS 2, which reunites most of the main cast but is markedly lacking in energy and seems to be struggling to find a reason to exist.

Dave Lizewsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is no longer fighting crime as costumed superhero Kick-Ass, much to the disappointment of orphaned Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz)--aka Hit Girl--who now lives with guardian and cop Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) after the death of her ex-cop father Damon (Nicolas Cage in the first film), aka superhero Big Daddy.  Dave gets back in the Kick-Ass game just as Mindy gets out, having realized it's time to put away the past and get on with being a teenager.  Meanwhile, vengeful Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), son of the mobster killed by Kick-Ass in the first film (played there by Mark Strong), abandons his Red Mist superhero persona and remakes himself as the ultimate supervillain, donning S&M leather gear and christening himself "The Motherfucker."  The Motherfucker recruits a team of arch-villains--among them Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya), The Tumor (Andy Nyman), and Genghis Carnage (Tom Wu) to form an evil army called "The Toxic Megacunts," who set out to destroy Kick-Ass and bring the city to its knees.

The formula just isn't nearly as much fun the second time around.  I never thought I'd say this, but the vital ingredient missing from KICK-ASS 2 is the down-to-earth humanity that Nicolas Cage brought to the first film, particularly in his loving, well-meaning but misguided relationship with his daughter.  In recent years, Cage generally hasn't been one to keep a film grounded, but Wadlow's main goal here just seems to be as childishly offensive as possible, and it's still watered down from Millar's original comic book version.  Moretz has grown quite a bit in the last three years, and since she's not a little kid anymore, there isn't the same level of transgressive amusement in having her say things like "cunt," "cocksucker," and "snatch."  Mintz-Plasse has some funny moments as The Motherfucker, but he doesn't have much to do other than rage and yell.  Taylor-Johnson is so bland that he practically vanishes from the screen, which isn't a quality one looks for in a lead character.  He and Moretz (who really doesn't seem like she wants to be here) made a great team in the first film, but now that she's grown, sexual tension enters the fray and Wadlow spends too much time on their everyday lives, especially with Mindy trying to fit in at school with a clique of mean girls led by the bitchy Brooke (Claudia Lee), a subplot that culminates in projectile vomiting and diarrhea, and gets more screen time than big-name franchise addition Jim Carrey as Col. Stars & Stripes, a patriotic ex-mob enforcer and born-again Christian who leads a group of costumed heroes aiding Kick-Ass in his battle against The Motherfucker.

Carrey infamously denounced KICK-ASS 2 in the weeks before its release, saying that the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre changed his outlook on the film and cinematic depictions of violence in general.  It's possible he knew the movie stunk and didn't want his fans to see it for him only to find that he's barely in it.  The trailers sold Stars & Stripes as being a wild, crazy, Jim Carrey kind-of character, but other than a couple of ad-libs ("Yeah, there's a dog on your balls!"), his performance is very low-key and, in relation to Moretz and Mintz-Plasse, played fairly straight (he even tells people to stop swearing).  With only a few scenes, it's a minor supporting role at best--he appears 30 minutes in and is gone by the 60-minute mark--and it's surprising that Carrey even took the job considering how little he has to do.  And speaking of people who should have better things to do, why is John Leguizamo here in a nothing role as The Motherfucker's driver?  Leguizamo's not a great actor, but he has headlined major movies.  Leguizamo doesn't bring anything uniquely his to this role, and like Carrey's Stars & Stripes, it's a role that anybody could've played.

KICK-ASS 2 has a larger cast of characters but gives them less to do with weaker characterizations.  Some occasional laughs, yeah...but a lot of jokes land with a thud and the greenscreen and CGI work in a climactic car chase is just embarrassingly bad, creating absolutely zero tension or excitement.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the first film, I really tried to like this, but then realized I was putting more effort into trying to like this than the filmmakers put into making it.


  1. Ouch! Gotta admit, I don't understand the appeal of Chloe Grace Moretz at all. I've liked her in one film (500 DAYS OF SUMMER), but every other performance of hers is very...self-aware, for lack of a better word.

  2. Yeah, I think you could say that about the first KICK-ASS, but I thought she did really good work in LET ME IN and HUGO. I'm not really enthused about the upcoming CARRIE remake, but I'm sure she and Julianne Moore will give it some class. She's a promising young actress who's entering a potentially dangerous period in her life...let's hope she doesn't become the next Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes.