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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Kick-Ass’s problem is its lack of tonal consistency. Opening as a what-if scenario, the film asks what would happen if a real person tried super-heroing around on street criminals. The eponymous character (Aaron Johnson), with his low tech wetsuit-and-police-baton style asks that question of his comic book loving trio. The answer is simple: he would be hurt badly if not killed, but that ends the movie in 15 minutes. This makes not a feature film, hence we meet Big Daddy and Hit Girl.

The character Big Daddy essentially asks “What if Batman and the Punisher were the same dude?”, which I found a lot of what-ifs for one film. Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz take these roles and absolutely run with them. These two veer to the complete opposite of the reality spectrum as well. Without revealing Big Daddy’s ultimate weapon, let’s just say that it looks like an A-Team upgrade to a James Bond gadget. Realism has long gone out the window before its introduction, but shortly after it a bazooka figures into the final battle scene.

The level of comic book cliché entrenched in Kick-Ass makes for some fun stuff, especially Christopher “Red Mist” Mintz-Plasse and his closing line, and Kick-Ass’s Spider-Man riffs when he dons his costume for the first time. I loved Cage’s dual Batman voice riffs when in costume. He changes his voice, a la Christian Bale, but in a slightly more familiar (and human) direction. But cliché also works against the characterization, especially with Big Daddy. His origin is a lazy pastiche of costumed heroes past, with little to differentiate him from them. Even Hit Girl is a female Robin who kills. Since Kick-Ass can’t achieve his namesake action, the plot conveniently borrows one of Darkman’s powers to make him more “believable” in his exploits. These tweaks are far slighter than the movie wants you to believe.

I did really like both Cage’s and Moretz’s performances in the film. She seemed really natural despite the over the top nature of her character, and Cage had one of his more grounded performances in quite a while. Their father-and-daughter connection was one of the better aspects, and served to make me wish that Kick-Ass would be written out of his own movie to make more room for them.

I found Mark Strong’s criminal kingpin really difficult to relate to as well. He had a signature color, supervillain style, and several scenes establishing his martial arts prowess (including a gi in that color), but had such weird reactions to superheroes that it felt off when his scenes dealt with that. He blew up emotionally with little provocation when confronted with the very idea of superheroes, undercutting his cool as a villain. His character is a good example of where the film held back when it should have pressed the limits on the ridiculous.

The biggest problem for me in Kick-Ass, though, was its spotty morality. In one scene Hit Girl rescues Kick-Ass from a confrontation with some hoods. In this scene she also straight up murders one guy who just seemed to be hanging out smoking, committing no onscreen violent crime, and a women who only broke a bottle to defend herself when all of her friends were killed by a psychotic little girl. What were their crimes exactly to deserve death? Just being with the wrong people? Like too many other aspects of the film, the moral compass never seemed to know where it wanted to go. A character death in the last act felt like it intended to be much deeper than the nature of the film allowed, and the death is utter comic book cliché with no necessity in driving the plot. Just another thrown together moment in Kick-Ass, which make up the majority of the film. 2 ½ stars

Get Low is Robert Duvall’s movie from beginning to end, and it may be his most perfect casting in his career. Playing Felix Bush, a hermit in rural 1930s Tennessee, Duvall captures loneliness, frustration, anger and guilt in his performance to an incredible degree. Bush has a secret buried in himself, and in turn has buried himself in isolation for 40 years, but given his growing closeness to death he wishes to be unburdened of it.

To this end Bush turns first to the church (and a surprising appearance by Gerald McRaney, a face I had not seen in years) for a funeral arrangement. Finding no satisfaction here he leaves, but an eager young funeral home employee overhears his plea. Buddy (a grown Lucas Black of Sling Blade) offers to help him with his final goal, a “funeral party.” Bush invites four counties worth of people to tell their stories of him, a “crazy old nutter,” while he yet lives to hear them.

The burden of backstory the writers and director Aaron Schneider handle quite well. It feels ominous without overpowering the story in the present, and then delivers a terrible but believable blow when revealed.

The film belongs to its actors, though, starting with star Duvall and extending to Black’s fine performance as the conflicted but earnest Buddy, unsure as to how to proceed with an outrageous request from a dying man. Bill Murray delivers as the businessman willing to go to great lengths for Bush during a dry spell. I wondered at first if this was yet another chapter for Murray, possibly closing the period from Herman Blume in Rushmore through Don Johnston in Broken Flowers. But his Frank Quinn feels a little too familiar, like what Peter Venkman may have become without the success of the “Ghostbusters,” shilling the same old song to whoever would listen. It’s a great performance, just not in retrospect the revelation I thought I’d seen. Sissy Spacek turns in a great performance as a key to Bush’s past. She carries her part without revealing much more than a hurt, and locking that away almost as tightly as Bush himself does. Bill Cobbs has a similar role and handles it just as well. His stubbornness in the face of Bush’s ailing health speaks volumes as to the depth of their past and he conveys this brilliantly.

All of these parts fit so well together and tell such a rich story, from the acting, writing and direction, the beautiful cinematography and even the choices in gospel and music contemporary of the time, all of it works to build the story to its climax. The music in particular provides a kind of backbone to the film, an uplift where the painful events could drag it down, not unlike what a church should do for its congregation. 4 ½ stars