'Kick-Ass 2' Review

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Universal Pictures

Reverence for comic creator Mark Millar runs through the veins of 'Kick-Ass 2.' The affection is often on the nose: One minute, crime fighting high schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is seen in front of a poster for Millar's 'American Jesus.' In a later flashback, his Dad hangs a piece of 'Superior' art on Dave's wall. The tips of a the hat are a blockade for writer/director Jeff Wadlow, whose passion for Millar's source material disables him from streamlining 'Kick-Ass 2' into a functional action movie.

There are too many moving parts, from Kick-Ass' attempts to form a DIY Justice League, to vengeful mob son Chris D'Amico's (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) emergence into New York's first supervillain, to the awkward high school story of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Balancing the schizophrenic story is a chore for Wadlow and the audience, and yet 'Kick-Ass 2' still manages to deliver a smattering of fun, living up to the tonal roller coaster ride of the original.

'Kick-Ass 2' takes a 'Why not?' approach to throwing us back into the super heroic adventures. After leaving his costumed persona behind, high school senior Dave arbitrarily decides to train under 15-year-old assassin Mindy Macready and own his former moniker. Meanwhile, the gangly teen formerly known as 'Red Mist' arbitrarily decides to whack his mother and pick up the mantle of his recently-bazookaed father. With the help of his bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) and his mom's old S&M leather, Chris becomes 'The Motherf---er,' a gun-toting menace bent on killing Kick-Ass. How convenient that they both decide to get back into the game at the same moment.

Wadlow expands the scope of Matthew Vaughn's 2010 film with forgettable fluff. Through the magic of Facebook, Dave connects with other comic book-inspired crusaders who are wronging rights around town. He teams up with Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), and the most exciting promise of the sequel, Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes, to take down mobsters the local police are too corrupt to touch. Or at least, that's what they plan to do — aside from one back room casino takedown, the newly formed super squad spends most of their time designing their costumes and training to fight. Not a recipe for action.

'Kick-Ass 2' actively wastes its talent. On the surface, Stars and Stripes might be Carrey's craziest character to date, but he's a minor role in a overshadowed plot line. There isn't scene that lets him loose — even when he's clobbering henchman with a baseball and sicking his German Shepherd on their nether regions. Same goes for Mintz-Plasse, a guy who can hold his own against the Apatow elite, now forced to scream and shout like a madman, even when he rounds up his own ragtag team of evildoers (like the personality-less Genghis Carnage and Mother Russia). Even folks like Faison and Clark Duke — funny people! — can't get a funny line to pop through the tumultuous plot.

Yet, Moretz rises up to save 'Kick-Ass 2.' The movie is saddled with Kick-Ass and Motherf---er, two pointless, dramatically stagnant characters, but when Wadlow is writing for Hit-Girl, he unearths a whole other movie. Hit-Girl's adventures in 9th grade is like 'Mean Girls' with ninjas stars. In the wake of her Dad's death, Mindy tries to play nice with her foster father Marcus (Morris Chestnut), but she can't help but resume her position as a pint-sized war machine. When she's caught and finally takes Marcus' cautionary words to heart, she attempts to reintegrate herself into school. Fashion-obsessed teen girls who say "totes" and mean it, end up being a far greater challenge for Mindy than any mafia thug. Wadlow finds cunning ways to riff on Hit-Girl's skill set, from a variety dance tryout that works as the film's best fight scene, and a laughably gratuitous moment involving the "sick stick." A vulgar gag, but one that hits hard.

Carrey infamously disowned 'Kick-Ass 2' because of its violence, though compared to the original, the film barely trickles blood. It's a bittersweet choice; on one hand, it helps Wadlow's sequel shift gears into a full-blown comic book movie (the original strived for brutal realism and corny theatrics — a combo that didn't pay off). On the other, the lack of mayhem forces 'Kick-Ass 2' to skimp on the action. Blame it on the reduced budget, which Wadlow serviceably works around and only shows its face when the movie tackles bigger stunts. Hit-Girl's hand-to-hand combat is always a hoot, but her major set piece, taking out The Motherf---er's men while surfing a cargo van, is a green screen nightmare.

Like its story, 'Kick-Ass 2' is founded on "why not?" It's not about what makes sense, it's about whatever Wadlow and Millar can throw at the screen. 'Kick-Ass 2' opens in theaters on August 14.

Matt Patches is a writer and reporter whose work has been featured on New York Magazine’s Vulture, Time Out New York, Film.com, and Hollywood.com. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Operation Kino.

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