“How come nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero?” The answer is never fully provided in “Kick-Ass,” but when the end rolls around we don’t particularly care, either. Heralded by critics as the perfect cross between gritty realism and fantasy, “Kick-Ass” manages to be both and neither at the same time.

“Kick-Ass”

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Lionsgate

The film opens like a second-rate beta-male comedy as three awkward comic book geeks muse on how awesome it would be to have a superhero in today’s increasingly look-away society. Okay, so far so Apatow. Later on, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, “The Illusionist”) resolves to carry out this very plan, patrolling the streets in a green and yellow scuba suit under the guise of Kick-Ass, attempting to fight crime. The masked adolescent becomes an Internet sensation, spawning a movement of real-life superheroes in the form of the pre-pubescent Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz, “(500) Days of Summer”) and her father, the former vigilante cop Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, “The Wicker Man”).

At the beginning, Johnson’s level of awkwardness surpasses the likes of Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg as his voice cracks and falters in his numerous voiceovers. He and his friends try hard to keep the banter going, and sometimes it works, but once the cast of over-the-top characters enters the picture, all becomes lost in the land of dialogue. Henceforth, the film proceeds to devolve into some kind of unwieldy mash-up of “Watchmen” and “Kill Bill.”

The biggest problem with “Kick-Ass” is its inconsistency. It’s understandable that a film modeling itself after a comic book world should be unrealistic, but the characters are so one-dimensional and hammy, they border the line of ridiculousness.

Moretz (who was quite possibly the worst thing about “(500) Days of Summer”) grates as she attempts to mix her tough-girl attitude with snaggletoothed charm. Unquestionably, she gets the best lines — “Contact the mayor’s office, he has a special signal he shines in the sky; it’s in the shape of a giant cock” — but the ways she executes them are just so uncomfortable you want to cover your ears. Child actors are given a lot of flak for just standing there and looking cute, but Moretz confirms all that can go wrong when they get to do more.

And as for the mustachioed Cage, the man loses any shred of good will left over from his neurotic turn in “Bad Lieutenant” last year, playing his insufferably caricatured Big Daddy to the T of weird tics and scenery chewing. Truly, the only thing more cheesy than Cage is the array of bizarre Italian mobsters following him, each equipped with a fake Brooklyn accent and swagger to match. The mobster kingpin’s nerdy son Chris, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”), is the only character that sticks, managing to provide some much-needed comic relief in his limited screen time.

Of course, all becomes forgiven once the real “ass-kicking” begins. As soon as the mouths stop moving, “Kick-Ass” features action scenes full of jaw-dropping kineticism that rival the best of Japanese kung fu flicks. There’s a delirious, manic bloodlust to the film, as Moretz’s character flips up a wall and careens 360 degrees over it, showering the killers in a stream of bullets and butterfly knives. Blood with the consistency of nail polish streams down their faces, as they slowly collapse and Joan Jett pounds out in the background. The girl can’t act, but damn is her body double good.

“Kick-Ass” is undoubtedly a fun movie, with its fight scenes sparkling in a way even non-action lovers will be able to get on board with. But since it doesn’t do realism or escapism correctly, it ends up teetering in a limbo zone that pleases no one and confuses everyone. In the end, the film becomes too facile to be any kind of commentary on society’s increasingly schadenfreudian mindset, too unidimensional to be a typical loser bromance comedy, but too clunky to be the sort of neorealist escapism inhabited by the likes of “Sin City” and “Watchmen.” It’s a film that could have had so much more to deliver had the storyline been less ambitious, less awkward and less full of Nicolas Cage.

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