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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, April 23, 2010

Movie Review: "Kick-Ass"

This week, I participated in the on-air review of "Kick-Ass" on "The Rotten Tomatoes Show" on Current. The full, written version of my review is below.

Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz
3.5 Stars

I'm a lifelong comic book devotee. And as such, "Kick-Ass" is a movie my inner-fanboy embraced about twenty minutes before the film critic portion of my brain could relax and agree.

With its pop culture references to MySpace and YouTube, zany and brilliantly choreographed stylized violence, wannabe "Superbad" or Kevin Smith style snark-mouthed supporting characters, "Kick-Ass" functions as little more than fast-food, to be sure. But it's damn delicious.

There were parts that made me say, "YES!" which overshadowed the parts that made me say, "eh," which was basically every time this movie tried to do something more than, you know, kick ass.

Based on the hyper-violent comic book by Mark Millar (illustrated by my all-time favorite comic book artist, John Romita, Jr., whose depictions of X-Men, Spider-Man, The Punisher and Daredevil remain the definitive versions of how those characters look to me) answers a question all of us fanboys have had at one time or another: what would happen if we put on a costume and started fighting crime? No radioactive spiders, no mutations, no Krypton. Just real life.

Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, a high school kid in gritty New York City whose only superpower is hanging out with a couple of fellow geeks (including the criminally underused Clark Duke, who is sort of to Jonah Hill what Skeet Ulrich was to Johnny Depp) at a comic book / coffee shop and crushing on Lyndsy Fonseca, one of the hottest girls I've seen in a movie in recent memory.

Johnson's performance, look and demeanor is practically interchangeable with Jesse Eisenberg's in the far superior "Adventureland," or anything Michael Cera has done, but without as much believability. He pulls off the geek role, but only slightly. Without his glasses, with his hair a bit less gigantic, he's just another handsome actor, albeit with a squeaky voice.

Lizewski decides to try his hand at real-life superhero-dom, donning a green scuba suit, picking up a couple of Matt Murdock style clubs and calling himself "Kick-Ass." The first bit of real violence is jarring in its blunt directness. But it's also refreshing, as you realize that what just happened is exactly what would have happened in real life, but rarely takes place in the movies, especially in movies like this. Or at least in movies like what you might have thought this would be.

One of Kick-Ass' early exploits is captured on a cell phone camera and hits the 'net, grabbing the attention of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a father-daughter pair much more successful at the real-life superhero game. Lacking Peter Parker's code of ethics, these two are all about bloody vengeance against the mob boss who ruined their lives several years before.

Hit Girl, and to a lesser extent Big Daddy (thanks to the least vain performance from Cage in years, at his neurotic best as a sweet but sadistic father filled with righteous rage), steal the show. Unlike "Ghost Rider," where we were supposed to believe Cage grew up with Eva Mendes, Cage plays his age. Moretz is the real star of "Kick-Ass" and the walking, talking, cursing, kicking, punching, stabbing, shooting embodiment of what some critics hate about this movie but far more of us adore.

She's ultra-violent, she's profane and she's... Awesome. Yes, she's eleven years old, and the cinematic tradition of having cute kids or animals say bad words is tired, but "Kick-Ass" approaches that dynamic in a way that's fresh thanks to its complete overdrive. She's clearly a cartoon. Nothing she does, nor anything that happens to her, feels real. "Kick-Ass" becomes more Quentin Tarantino style, like "Kill Bill" with brighter colors, literally the instant she arrives in costume.

Unlike messy pictures like "Transformers" or "Ninja Assassin," you can see all of the action. It's RADICAL! Director Matthew Vaughn makes sure we can tell what's going on, which really gets my blood moving. Vaughn almost directed "X-Men 3" and "Kick-Ass" certainly makes you wish you could hop in a DeLorean and kick Brett Ratner out of the director's chair.

We also get a sneak-preview of Mark Strong's villain chops. The future Sinestro from "Green Lantern" is great as the mob boss. Christopher Mintz-Plasse -- forever to be known as McLovin' as surely as Jon Heder will always be Napoleon Dynamite -- fills a passable but mostly unnecessary role as Kick-Ass' frenemy, Red Mist.

What "Kick-Ass" borrows from QT in action is unfortunately not matched in dialog. "Kick-Ass" thinks it's a lot snappier than it really is in that department, nor does it hit the right notes when it attempts to inject genuine emotion into the story. There's a bit of believable pathos here and there, and a couple of chuckles, but for the most part, "Kick-Ass" soars when Hit Girl is... Kicking ass.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a great action flick. I'd also recommend it to anyone who generally avoids action movies but is open to seeing the cream of the crop. This is it.

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