** (out of four)
“Kick-Ass 2” co-star Jim Carrey recently denounced the film due to its extreme violence. Though someone who starred in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” hardly qualifies as a reliable judge of quality, Mr. Carrey has a point, not necessarily about the extent of the violence but its tone. Example: Before leading a band of vigilantes into a den of evil to brutally attack some gangsters, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey) says, “Try to have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?”
That’s not to say that real-life, gun-related violence means action movies have to disappear. It means that people should balk at films like “Kick-Ass 2” (and last month’s “Red 2”) that treat carnage with a smirk. Sheesh, the movie opens with Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) firing a handgun, and then a bigger gun, at Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) to test his bullet-proof vest. Adapting a comic book captured with more laughs and less nastiness in 2010’s original film, writer-director Jeff Wadlow plays the scene for chuckles. Yes, a few audience members obliged.
When Hit-Girl decides to return to her life as 15-year-old, non-superhero Mindy and fall in with a gang of “Mean Girls” wannabes, Kick-Ass aligns with Justice Forever, a group of powerless vigilantes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes and conveniently featuring a lovely, available girl who goes by Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). She’s one of roughly 10 characters called “bitch” throughout the film, which can’t decide what the term represents—other than lazy writing and a determination demeaning its women and/or emasculating its men. This justice league (no relation to the Justice League) becomes a target for Chris/the Mother[Bleeper] (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), formerly known as Red Mist and still wanting vengeance for Kick-Ass’ murdering Chris’ father.
In fact, “Kick-Ass 2” loses sight of the fact that when two people seek mutual revenge for similar offenses, the notion of good and evil disappears. Unlike the indifferently acted “Red 2,” “Kick-Ass 2” is never boring and works better than it should thanks to Johnson and Moretz. Yet there’s a big difference between edgy and cheap, and it should be clear which side numerous gay/racist/masturbation jokes land on.
That’s the tone here: crass and affected, preferring to snicker instead of recognize that kids wielding guns is a troubling thing and amateurs hunting down bad guys has moral and physical consequences. Chris shouts “I wish you were dead!” and kicks his mom’s tanning bed so, well, you can probably guess. Hit-Girl notes that she’d rather be waterboarded than listen to Justin Bieber (is there a third choice?) and quips while chopping off a guy’s hand “Pants on fire,” since he just lied about something. To quote Adam Scott in “Party Down,” are we having fun yet?
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