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(2010) *** R
117 min. Lionsgate. Director: Matthew Vaughn. Cast: Aaron Johnson (IV), Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage.

/content/films/3738/1.jpgWhat if fanboy zeal inspired a superhero-loving teen to take to the streets—in his own homemade costume—to clean them up and bask in the glory of a grateful citizenry? That’s the idea behind Kick-Ass, itself based on a fanboy-fave comic-book series by writer Mark Millar (Wanted) and illustrator John Romita, Jr.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Millar nevertheless understands that a zero isn’t just going to waltz his way into being a hero. On the page and on the screen, Kick-Ass riffs on the wish-fulfillment afforded by tales of derring-do and the ill-advisedness of taking on the task in real life. “With no power comes no responsibility,” muses Dave Lizewski, but he’s wrong, of course: when he pulls on his eBay-bought wetsuit and prowls the streets as Kick-Ass, he’s taking his very life into his hands.

To the credit of the creative team, Lizewski quickly lands himself in the hospital, lucky to be alive. But that accomplished, the story spins wilder and wilder “what-if”s, throwing Dave (an appealingly nerdy Aaron Johnson) into a world much broader than the walls of his high school. First, having had a taste of adrenaline, the kid can’t stop himself from donning his outfit and returning to his patrols, shivs and guns be damned. Then, he gets the world’s attention when a cell-phone video makes him an internet celebrity.

His naiveté compounded by small-scale success, Kick-Ass needs a reality check. Oddly, it comes in the form of an unreal pair of more experienced superheroes: the Batman-styled Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his eleven-year-old sidekick Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). The secretive father-daughter duo is all kinds of wrong and, in their own ways, just as delusional as Dave, but they’re exceedingly more successful, cutting down their foes with fatal efficiency.

The sight of an eleven-year-old girl slicing criminals to shreds with a katana (and the sound of her uttering the nastiest of profanities) will prove too much for many, but Kick-Ass will be catnip for the superhero crowd and audiences hungry for material that’s deliriously edgy. Director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman (previous collaborators on Stardust) embrace Millar’s gleeful disinterest in political correctness (in fact, the film was developed side by side with the initial run of six comic-book issues, a new precedent in comic-book movies).

While up-and-comer Moretz (recently signed to Scorsese’s next film) will get the most attention from Kick-Ass, the real news may be a return to form for Nicolas Cage. Along with the recent Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Kick-Ass displays a reinvigorated Cage eager to take risks (his vocal choice, for Big Daddy, which I won’t spoil, is jaw-droppingly funny). Cage can play a second-fiddle Johnny Depp for Disney as long as he continues to step out to indie films like this one. Kick-Ass isn’t Ibsen, but it knows just what it is (I refer you to the title) and goes for the gusto: gratuitous—well, gratuitous everything.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Street date: 8/3/2010

Distributor: Lionsgate Home Video

Lionsgate gives Kick-Ass a home-video release that is I have to say it?...kick-ass. The version to get is the three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy special edition. A/V qualifications are outstanding, with a razor-sharp, colorful hi-def transfer and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that rocks the house. The impressively detailed transfer is true to the director's intent (with contrast that skews bright), and it goes without saying that the element is spotless. As for the audio mix, dialogue is well-prioritized and the wraparound sound creates an impressive immersion with robust treatment of the superheroic score and explosive action (as expected, the climax proves particularly powerful).

Bonus features are exhaustive, in the best sense. For starters, one can revisit the film using the Ass-Kicking BonusView Mode, which is primarily a video commentary with director/producer/co-screenwriter Matthew Vaughn enhanced by other interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. This new material takes up most of the screen while the feature plays out in a PiP window: why all video commentaries aren’t like Lionsgate’s BonusView, I have no idea: it makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience. This is a terrific, in-depth guide to the film: the behind-the-scenes footage is revealing, and we get interesting comments from Vaughn, co-composer Henry Jackman, Aaron Johnson, Garrett M. Brown, Lyndsy Fonseca, Evan Peters, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Clark Duke, production designer Russell de Rozario, Mark Strong, screenwriter/co-producer Jane Goldman, Chloë Grace Moretz, director of photography Ben Davis, Jason Flemyng, Kick-Ass co-creator/writer Mark Millar, production sound mixer Simon “Purple” Hayes, Kofi Natei, co-composer John Murphy, Kick-Ass co-creator/artist John S. Romita, Jr., producer Tarquin Pack, and 2nd unit DP/Steadicam operator Peter Wignall. (The only conceivable complaint here is the absence of Nicolas Cage, but he turns up in the feature-length making-of documentary described below.)

Vaughn’s BonusView observations are also available as an audio commentary with director Matthew Vaughn.

The jewel in the Blu-ray crown is the four-part, two-hour documentary “A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass (1:53:04, HD), comprising “Pushing Boundaries” (pre-production in concept and development), “Let’s Shoot This F****er!” (production), “Tempting Fate” (editing and promotion: Comic-Con and test screening), and “All Fired Up!” (special effects, animation, scoring, color timing, audio mixing, and premiere). This detailed look at the film from inception to release includes interviews with Vaughn, Pack, Millar, Romita, Goldman, Johnson, Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mintz-Plasse, Strong, Duke, Fonseca, costume designer Sammy Sheldon, Davis, make-up/hair designer Fae Hammond, de Rozario, prosthetic supervisor John Schoonraad, special effects supervisor Dave Harris, visual effects supervisor Mattias Lindahl, second unit director Tim Maurice-Jones, Chloe’s mom Teri Moretz, fight coordinator Peng Zhang, Hit Girl stunt double Greg Townley, second unit armorer Rob Grundy, co-editor Jon Harris, Romita, Lindahl, 3D supervisor for Double Negative Peter Jopling, 2D supervisor for Double Negative Stuart Farley, Jackman, and Murphy.

Comic-book fans will be pleased as punch to find the comic version of Kick-Ass has not been neglected. “It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass (20:35, HD) is a behind-the-scenes featurette on the production of the comic series. Millar, Romita, colorist Dean White, and inker Tom Palmer are interviewed.

The Art of Kick-Ass gallery includes Storyboards, Costumes, On-Set Photography, Production Design and John Romita, Jr. Art for the Film.

Marketing Archive includes “Theatrical Trailer” (2:30, HD), “Redband Hit Girl Trailer” (1:16, HD), and advertising galleries for the North American Campaign and International Campaign.

We're not done yet...the disc is tricked out for D-BOX (rump-shaking for owners of D-BOX chairs), BD Touch (the wireless hookup to mobile devices), and Metamenu (a remote control app for your iPhone), with a Bookmarks feature to keep your place (or index fave scenes) in the film.

All I can say is...well done, Lionsgate. Superhero fans will plotz for Kick-Ass on Blu-ray.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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