Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“Like every serial killer already knows, eventually fantasizing just doesn’t do it anymore.”

I don't have any kind of clever personal lead in to this. Basically, my friend Conor called me and asked if I wanted to see Kick-Ass at the Alamo, and I said yes.

For those who don't know (presumably people who aren't huge nerds), Kick-Ass follows a nondescript teenage boy who asks himself, "why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a super hero?" and decides to take it upon himself to do just that. He figures that super-heroism requires nothing more than a costume and a desire to help people. Granted, he has no super powers, is movie-scrawny (which is to say super fit, but skinny), and knows nothing about crime fighting, or fighting in general, for that matter. After constructing a costume out of a scuba suit and naming himself "Kick-Ass," he sets out on the streets of New York City to fight crime. This sets off two chains of events: first, one of his ill-conceived attempts at stopping crime is recorded and uploaded to the internet, making him a viral sensation; second, he runs into a father-daughter team of masked crime fighters who have been operating for an indeterminate amount of time, but entirely under the radar.

I will start by saying that I enjoyed the movie. It's incredibly vulgar, extremely violent (in that over-the-top, comical, desensitizing way), and is frequently laugh out loud funny. It's a clever, action-heavy, super-hero send up, that at its best is exciting and fun, and at its worst is a little too wink-at-the-audience and has a tendency to fall into the same clichés it's satirizing. People who aren't into comics and super-heroes will probably find it to be enjoyable escapism, and people who are familiar with the ins-and-outs of comics will find it to be smart (and at times, frustrating) on top of that.

The two basic storylines mentioned above more or less breakdown what I liked about Kick-Ass and what didn't really work for me. I really like the character of Kick-Ass. Granted, his real-life alter-ego is something of a non-entity, but the ways in which he attempts to adopt the super-hero lifestyle can be absolutely hilarious. In a twisted bizarro sense, he actually succeeds at his job. In multiple scenes, Kick-Ass successfully stops crime on his own essentially by getting his ass kicked. Either the criminals spend too much time beating him and the cops show up or his beating attracts too much attention from nearby gawkers. Kick-Ass is perpetually in over his head in a comically brutal yet determined way. His naivety and determination in the face multiple savage beating and near total ineptitude manages to elicit a funny combination of inspiration and embarrassment, admiration and facepalming.

Mixed into Kick-Ass's personal storyline is a fair amount of pretty clever satire. The dialogue, for instance, is often intentionally clunky and heavy-handed, and when it hits, is a pitch perfect send-up of tough-guy super-hero movies. There's a fair amount of comedy mined from the idea that the simple pragmatics of being a hero are actually a lot harder than one would probably anticipate. For instance, Kick-Ass sets up a Myspace page to act as a sort of "hero upon request" system after he realizes that just wandering the streets looking for crime doesn't really work (such as his attempt to find a lost cat). This side of the movie, the more comedic and satirical side, is really what I enjoyed.

Eventually Kick-Ass runs afoul of a low level drug dealer. Coincidentally, a father-daughter hero team has been targeting this particular drug ring. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy save Kick-Ass and thus he is introduced to two legitimate vigilant heroes. At this point the real plot kicks in, as Kick-Ass is thrust into real-life crime-fighting and the battle between a drug king pin and a pair of sociopathic costumed avengers. It's this element to the movie that didn't work nearly as well for me. It bears exciting action fruit, to be fair, but it also undercuts a lot of the more clever satire from the rest of the movie. In most respects, Kick-Ass turns into a typical super-hero story.

There are two things that I feel obligated to mention. The first is the character of Hit-Girl, an extremely foul-mouthed eleven year old girl trained by her father her entire life to be a brutally efficient killer. Just about every review of Kick-Ass makes explicit mention of Hit-Girl and how she steals the movie. Personally, I wasn't all that impressed. The acting is fine for a young actress, but hardly noteworthy. Her character is extremely one-note, the novelty of watching a little girl dismember mobsters and drug dealers wears off almost as quickly as the novelty of watching a young girl spout near endless streams of profanity. It's sort of like a bloody version of Sarah Silverman. I get it. The trailer alone was enough for me to tire of the shtick. About the only thing that stuck out to me as really good about the Hit-Girl character was that since she is so small, a lot of her stunts were pretty acrobatic (a lot of jumping and flipping over and around the villains).

The other thing I feel I must mention is Nicolas Cage, who plays Big Daddy. His performance is oddly un-Cage-like, too self-aware and too labored to really be a true "Nic Cage" performance. This isn't to say it's bad, it fits with the style of the movie quite well, actually. From the way he refers to his daughter as "child" to the stilted Adam West speaking cadence he adopts as Big Daddy to the special costume element that perfectly rounds out his disguise. It's an over-acted performance that I found enjoyable at a pretty easy and superficial level. It's no Wicker Man or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but it's pretty fun just the same.

Oh wait, forget what I said earlier, there is a personal side to this entry. I guess it's more of an outro than intro this time, though.

After the movie, Conor and I decided to head out around downtown for a while. We first headed to the Driskill, a fancy historic hotel in downtown Austin with a very relaxed and comfortable bar. First of all, there were two separate wedding parties at the bar, so brides, grooms, and fancily dressed wedding-goers abounded in the background. To start off with, I order a whiskey and ginger ale, only to be told that the bar is out of ginger ale. The bartender asks me if I would prefer a whiskey with coke and sprite mixed together. I respond, "uh…does that work?" with flashes of Seinfeld going through my head. He assures me that ginger ale is just sprite with a splash of coke, so I acquiesce. And what do you know? He's right! It totally tasted the same. So Conor and I take our drinks and plop down on a big cushy leather couch with garish/awesome spotted cow hide sides.

After about a drink, we relocate to the bar, at which point Conor and I became privy to the hooking up of a pair of middle-aged bar flies. To my right was a forty-something man wearing a white T-Shirt that said "I (heart) lesbians" and to Conor's left was a lone forty-something woman. We were their go-betweens as they passed notes written on bar napkins back and forth. Eventually the man moved to sit next to her and they proceeded to full-on, open-mouthed make out, while the woman rubbed the man's crotch with her knee, before the two departed into the night, holding hands (seriously, holding hands). Watching those two may have been the highlight of the night.

At one point I get up to use the bathroom. The Driskill bathroom has two urinals with back stones in the bottom in lieu of urinal cakes and stalls with full floor-to-ceiling doors. I walk into the bathroom and both urinals are in use, so I head to the first stall. I open the door just as the man inside is pulling up his pants. After a quick, "oops!" I shut the door and go to the next stall, where I again walk in on a man pulling up his pants. After a somewhat bewildered, "shit, sorry!" the first guy explains that there are no locks on the door, and just as he was pulling up his pants, he saw the handle turn. He said he figured it was "uncanny timing" so he didn't say anything. I proceed to use the now vacant stall and walk out to wash my hands. There is a fifty-something Asian man in full engineering nerd attire (khaki pants, short-sleeved button-down shirt, tucked in, with an enormous phone holstered on his belt) using the sink next to me. A stranger yells from the urinals "I can't tell my asshole from a black stone in a urinal!" This makes no sense to me, but sends the Asian man into boisterous guffaws and muttering things like "good one" to himself as he strolls out of the bathroom. Nothing about the individual elements is that outrageous, but added together, it was one of the more surreal bathroom trips in recent memory.

The night finally ends with Conor and I meeting up with my friend Lance at a place around the corner from the Driskill. My attempts to meet up with Lance lead to a frustrating "who's on first" series of texts. Lance: Come meet us at Lavaca St between 4th and 5th. Me: Cool, where are you at? Lance: Lavaca St. Me: I know, which bar. Lance: Lavaca St between 4th and 5th. Eventually I gave up trying to get Lance to tell me where he is, and it wasn't until Conor and I saw the sign that we realized the bar was actually called Lavaca St, as well as being located on Lavaca St. We all had a good chuckle when Conor and I got there. "Oh, hahaha."

And so ended my Kick-Ass adventure…


Brad said...

I as under the impression that Hit-Girl was a major part of the movie or the protagonist. I'm relieved to hear that that's not the case. Nic Cage! Tejas-style!

Brad said...

PS: A comprehensive and thoughtful review. Maybe in the future you can tango with Mr Lane.

Scott said...

Hit-Girl is definitely one of the main characters, but isn't the primary focus of the movie. Thankfully.

And I say bring on Mr. Lane! I ain't scared of no New Yorker writer!

Matt said...

Yeah the sprite/coke mix as a ginger ale substitute is an old bartender trick. Sprite with a dash of bitters also works.

Scott said...

I feel so duped!