I wonder all the time, why no one’s ever just stood up and become a real superhero?” comic shop employee Libby (Ellen Page) asks sadsack joe Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson from the US Office). Hasn’t she seen Kick- Ass?
Yet, for all its whimsy (cartoon credits, jovial score) don’t be fooled: James Gunn’s corrosive black comedy often makes Matthew Vaughn’s hit look like a fluffy crowd-pleaser.
When his wife (Liv Tyler) hooks up with local drugs kingpin Jacques (Kevin Bacon, summer’s go-to guy for sleazy villainy), Frank dashes off a homemade costume, changes his name to the Crimson Bolt, and starts fighting crime – badly – in order to win her back.
Forget geek chic, though. Frank is damaged goods, a borderline psycho suffering gruesome visions of being touched (literally) by God.
It’s Travis Bickle in a mask, basically, and when Frank enlists Libby (Ellen Page), the fantasy gets uncomfortably close to reality. The Crimson Bolt’s trademark move is to brain his targets with a wrench, regardless of their crime – and Libby, aka sidekick Boltie, gets “gushy” thinking about it.
Writer/director Gunn, a Troma veteran who penned the Dawn Of The Dead remake and directed Slither, pitches his film to the same subversive sensibilities rather than the Scott Pilgrim crowd.
Superhero aficionados might find his sly suggestion that they’re as mental as the vigilantes they worship a bit mean-spirited. And it’s Page’s nutjob fangirl you’ll remember more than Wilson’s blank oddball; one creepy seduction should shed any last trace of Juno cuteness from her CV.
So it’s too raw and difficult for one target audience, but the erratic tone might leave sick puppies equally nonplussed. Gunn’s jibes at Bible-bashers and gun-nuts are as blunt as Frank’s attacks, and the clash of kooky comedy and violence is as awkward as it is ugly.
Fair play to a film that dares to let the laughs choke in your throat, but it’s missing the alchemy that made Kick-Ass such a guilty pleasure.
A bold superhero Taxi Driver, but for every viewer revelling in its savage satire, another will see a cynical, uncertain mess.