There's a certain amount of joy - elation, even - in watching the tightly-spaced, blade-wielding acrobatics of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), the 11-year old sub-protagonist of Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, a film firmly rooted in the world of comic-strip construction and bodily deconstruction.
But Hit-Girl and her Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) don't show up much in the first hour, for this film is titled after the typically virginal Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who dons a skin-tight green-with-yellow-trim scuba suit and calls himself Kick-Ass, fulfilling his and every other comic reader's wish of living in their own world of crime, duality and fame.
What we get is a blatantly self-aware, progressively violent and batty addition to the superhero canon that doesn't so much deconstruct the genre with its "what if" scenario of (mostly) powerless patrons taking up masks and eye-black, but serves as an ambient pop-culture commixture of everything from Tarantino to Danny Boyle to Superbad.
Shot and framed with the vibrancy and transitional approach of a comic-book, Kick-Ass was written concurrently with Mark Millar's ongoing comic series, perhaps avoiding the built-in anticipation and the compromised slavishness that it demands. Kick-Ass is simply at its best when the action is flowing and Ms. Moretz is threatening to stain her purple go-go wig and initialed utility belt, spewing mouthfuls of expletives as she goes.
When Dave Lizewski fumbles around with his awkward social life mostly spent at Atomic Comics and masturbating at his computer chair (this again?), the film sputters like a raunchy Michael Cera vehicle. (A running gag in which a cute classmate played by Lyndsy Fonseca falsely believes that Dave is gay doesn't help matters.)
As Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl team up for some cathartic vindication in the crowd-pleasing, hallway-scrolling finale that would make Neo jealous, the film turns oppressively jubilant like a bazooka to the chest. I'd imagine that it all plays out more favorably within the confines of its native strip panels. [C+]