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Clark Duke

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Don’t Give a Damn ‘Bout My Bad Reputation.

Not to get all Peter Travers up in here, but, if you’re in any way a member of the fanboy/fangirl nation, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is, pure and simple, kick-ass. Much as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man launched the summer of 2008 with a sleek, rousing, highly-enjoyable crowd-pleaser of a comic book film, I’m happy to report that Vaughn delivers exactly what its very quality trailer (not to mention Layer Cake and, occasionally, Stardust) promised — two quality hours of thrills, spills, and vaguely disreputable four-color mayhem.

This is not only a much more entertaining adaptation of Mark Millar’s work than Timur Bekmanbetov’s badly flawed Wanted. It’s also, in some ways and like Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, more Watchmen-y than Watchmen — a sardonic, pleasingly daft evisceration of common comic book tropes. And with a light touch, an impressive funnybook aesthetic, and great comic presence throughout, Kick-Ass is an audience movie if there ever was one, and just an all-around fun night out at the multiplex.

If you’re unfamiliar with the comic (as I was — I just knew the conceit), Kick-Ass basically centers on one question: Given that there are millions of comic book fans out there, and more than a few of them are, put charitably, maybe a little socially maladjusted, how come nobody in our world ever dresses up in a costume to fight crime? That’s the banner idea that occurs one day to thoroughly average high-school kid Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, looking like a lankier Frodo.) And one scuba outfit purchase from Amazon and a few weeks of training (re: fantasizing) later, Dave — now known as Kick-Ass — embarks on his Hero Quest…which, well, doesn’t turn out so hot. (Minor spoiler: He quickly gets shivved, hit by a car, and left for dead.)

The silver lining of this godawful ass-kicking: Dave suffers so much nerve damage from his beatdown that he’s backed his way into a super-power — a higher-than-average pain tolerance. And so he sets out once more to fulfill his destiny, maybe impress a girl here or there also. But, while Kick-Ass is basically freelancing his way into a super-hero career, other folks take the mask-and-cowl more seriously — namely the better-trained, better-armed, and better-motivated father-daughter duo of Damon and Mindy MacCready, otherwise known as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Out for revenge against a drug operation run by kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), Big Daddy and Hit-Girl tend to leave a swath of blood and entrails in their wake. This makes D’Amico livid, of course, and so he starts gunning for any and all costumed vigilantes he can find, starting with that goofy kid on Youtube in the green scuba suit…

Admittedly, Kick-Ass is ultra-violent, although always in a hyperstylized comic book sense. (At worst, we’re in Kill Bill territory here.) Like Sin City, the moral economy of Kick-Ass may be somewhat suspect, although it’s nowhere near as craven or reprehensible as some pearl-clutching critics, like, weirdly, Roger Ebert, suggest. (Basically, Ebert is mortified by Hit-Girl. I presume he’s never heard of Robin, Bucky, Kitty Pryde, Jason Todd, or any other number of endangered child sidekicks in comics. That train left the station fifty years ago.) And, yes, it’s occasionally sophomoric — if I remember correctly, we have two masturbation jokes before the credits are even finished rolling. All that being said, Kick-Ass is also breezy, propulsive, and very entertaining, and its pros definitely outweigh its cons.

There are a lot of little things about the movie that work, from Clark Duke’s sidekick banter (he’s much more engaging here than in Hot Tub Time Machine) to Mark Strong (late of Sherlock Holmes, soon of Robin Hood) continuing to grow into an A-list presence. Or seeing a post-Bad Lieutenant Nick Cage offer up a wicked Adam West impression. Or Kick-Ass and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, nee McLovin) getting their freak on to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” (One minor quibble: From “Crazy” to “Bad Reputation” to even the 28 Weeks Later score, the soundtrack is weirdly rote in its choices, and feels almost temp-track-y.)

But, let’s get real — In the end, this is Hit Girl’s movie, and Chloe Moretz just about runs away with the durned show. As in (500) Days of Summer, Moretz is basically playing another preternaturally adult kid sister, except this time she’s also a certifiable badass with a potty mouth and a way with butterfly knives. (As it turns out, she’ll be doing the Old-Soul routine again this Christmas in Matt Reeves’ American remake of Let the Right One In.) Still, the movie wouldn’t work at all if she wasn’t great, and this is a star-making performance. Get used to the purple wig, y’all, ’cause Hit-Girl, I suspect, is going to be a staple of both Halloween and cosplay types for many years to come. And it’s Moretz’s impish grin and impeccable comic timing that, more than anything else, makes the idea of a Kick-Ass 2 worth entertaining.

Frat to the Future.


To get in the proper mood for Steve Pink’s ’80s throwback (in more ways than one) Hot Tub Time Machine after a long week at work, I made sure to sidle up to the bar just beforehand — conveniently located, at my “local” (Regal Gallery Place in DC’s Chinatown), just below the theater — and knock down a shot-and-pint (of Jamesons and Guinness respectively, of course.) And my best advice for those of you still thinking about testing these bubbling, lurid, time-traveling waters: Better make that a double.

My feelings about Hot Tub Time Machine are pretty close to how I came down on The Hangover last summer. It’s got some funny moments, sure, and I admire its throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks, Anchorman-y approach to humor. (This is vastly preferable to the “let’s make the audience better people in three acts” schtick that was in comedy vogue for awhile — See, for example, Anger Management.) It’s also sort of a kick to see John Cusack, after fighting it for decades, willingly slumming back to his Savage Steve Holland years, and, I’ll concede, the “I want my two dollars” joke made me smile.

At the same time, and maybe even more than The Hangover (which is no small feat), Hot Tub Time Machine feels like it was penned by and for the Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons nation. You could argue its casual misogyny, homophobia, and dumb raunchiness-for-the-sake-of-it is all part of the return-to-the-’80’s experience, but my guess is it’s really all about catering to the army of 21st century mooks that enlist under the Sportsguy’s standard. I mean, do you know the street value of that mountain? (As an aside, I actually think Simmons is a decent writer, and am crawling through his Book of Basketball at the moment. The problem isn’t his talent or his bball savvy, but his judgment and his (lack of) taste. Nor do I blame him for creating mook culture — he’s just one of its clearest expressions.)

More on the mookness of it all in a bit, but, first, the high-concept gist: Just like The Hangover, we have three friends (Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on (Clark Duke) trying to find themselves by taking a memorable, life-altering Lost Weekend — only this time, it’s in The Past. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his Second Life-addicted nephew (Duke) living in the basement. Nick (Robinson) is a once-promising singer who gave up his dreams for a girl and now spends his day as a personal trainer for dogs. (He touches poo. Ha. That’s funny. Poo.) And Lou (Corddry), the Galifianakis of the bunch, is a perennial loser who may or may not have recently tried to kill himself. (A wasted Corddry plunking out ’80’s power-chords on his dashboard is funny, and one of the many ways he often rises above the material here.)

So, because of Lou’s maybe-meltdown, this ungainly foursome head back to the ski resort idyll of their youth for some manly bonding. Problem is, the Great Recession has hit hard and the place has gone to hell — there’ll be no skiing the K-12 here. And, just when the weekend seems like a total wash, our heroes stumble into the hot tub in question and stumble out 24 years earlier, in the year of our lord 1986 — Adam is still with the “Great White Buffalo” he never should’ve dumped, Nick is still rocking the Kid-‘n’-Play-style hi-top, Lou is…well, still a loser, and Jacob the nephew shouldn’t even exist, and thus has a phasing-in-and-out, Marty McFly in Back to the Future II problem. (And speaking of the McFlys, Crispin “George McFly” Glover is skulking around too, as is Chevy Chase.) Fire up the day-glo and the hair metal, y’all, ’cause it’s time to partay like it’s the MTV era…

And so they do, meaning all the fashion faux-pas and Wang Chung-ish blasts from the past you might imagine from living in the Eighties. But, while there are still a few funny moments here and there, this Hot Tub loses steam and falls ever more flat the longer they spend in the Me Decade. I find legwarmers and Members Only jackets as ridiculous as the next guy, but there are only so many “lordy, the sartorial sense was terrible back then” jokes you can make over the course of two hours. And, other than that, the movie just meanders through its second half without much purpose, or even much sense. Cusack ingests enough shrooms to give the good doctor pause, and is playing Sixteen Candles kissy-face with Lizzy Caplan half an hour later.

And then there’re all the fratboyisms and mookish behavior. To be clear, I wasn’t offended by Hot Tub, per se. (Case in point: I put Jackass in my top 100 films of last decade.) And, to be sure, the sensibilities were different back then in Ronald Reagan’s America — just look at much of Police Academy or Revenge of the Nerds, or even the aforementioned Back to the Future, where, as @kellyoxford recently noted, George wins Marty’s future mom’s heart basically by stopping her from being date raped.

Still, by too often resorting in puerile shenanigans — look, Rob Corddry just got pee on his face! — and particularly in portraying every gal that comes along (Caplan aside) as a dim-witted sex toy, the movie just feels lazy, half-assed, and, well, mook. I don’t want to be the Billy Zabka of this tale, but, while I’m all for nostalgifying the ’80s for a few laughs, at some point, quite frankly, it’s time to grow up.

Hannibal Rising. | Kick to the Dome.

In the weekend trailer bin, our first look at Joe Carnahan’s 21st-century revamp of The A-Team, with Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Face), Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson (B.A.), Sharlto Copley (Murdoch), and Jessica Biel. Hmm…ok, maybe. What with that tank and all, this looks aggressively stupid, but I mean that in the best way possible — we are talking about The A-Team here. And the tagline is worth a chuckle.Update: Actually, there is a plan-B. (In fact, I think I’d give my case to Hit-Girl and the Bad Lieutenant before it got anywhere near the likes of Bradley Cooper.) Witness the four-color carnage of Matthew Vaughn’s second Kick-Ass trailer, if you dare.

Prince of Thieves, Queen of Hearts.

In the trailer bin, Russell Crowe grunts, growls, and generally looks very Maximus-ish in the new trailer for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, also with William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett (nee Sienna Miller) as Maid Marian. And two colorful new trailers for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland suggest Tim Burton might have gone pretty far afield from the original Lewis Carroll tome, and that Johnny Depp might get Willy Wonka-annoying here after awhile.

Update: But does he know the street value of that mountain? It’s The Hangover meets Back to the Future as John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke travel back to 1986 in a Hot Tub Time Machine, also with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, and Chevy Chase. Um, yeah.

Quest for…Fire.

True love? Well, first things first. With hormones raging and graduation imminent, all the gaggle of adenoidal misfits at the heart of Superbad want to do is just get on the board. I caught Greg Mottola, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s ode to teenage fraternity and the exquisite misery of high school celibacy two weeks ago, as a follow-up to The Invasion. And, while I could see how it might not be everybody’s cup of tea (and assuredly plays better to the Y-chromosomed among us), I logged enough time as a nerdy, oversexed high schooler back in the day to dig the film considerably…or at least its first hour or so. I frankly never get tired of Arrested Development‘s Michael Cera — nobody does teenage awkward anxiety better — and newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse was a real find. But Superbad‘s two skewed peace officers — Rogen and SNL impressionist Bill Hader — reallly overstay their welcome. They should’ve been a one-sequence joke, but they linger on and on here, like the mortifying memory of a drunken mistake.

The story? It’s as old as the hills and as common as puberty. Basically, portly wiseass Seth (Jonah Hill of Knocked Up) and nebbishy dreamer Evan (Cera) are not only high school BFFs about to go their separate ways in college but interminably horny boys on the threshold of manhood. In fact, they’re willing to do just about anything to hasten their crossing of that threshold, sexually speaking, including procuring copious amounts of alcohol for an end-of-school party they’ve miraculously been invited to (thanks to some smoother-than-usual maneuvers by Seth in Home Ec one day.) But, their visions of easy, liquor-soaked seduction go awry when they discover their even nerdier partner-in-crime, Fogel (Mintz-Plasse), has inexplicably reinvented himself as a 25-year-old Hawaiian named “McLovin” on his fake I.D. And, when “McLovin” gets (inadvertently) apprehended by two local cops (Rogen, Hader) after a “bad buy,” Seth and Evan must attempt more drastic maneuvers to obtain the demon rum, or remain high school virgins for time immemorial…

So, yeah, in other words it’s Porkys, or Revenge of the Nerds, or any of a hundred other movies that center around quirky (male) adolescents frantically trying to get laid. But the play is the thing, and as an example of the genre Superbad is both pretty darn funny at times and altogether plausible, at least for its first few reels. In conversations both profane (types of porn, inadvertent erections) and profound (the tragedy of Orson Welles), Seth and Evan exhibit a wide-ranging, free-association friendship that feels honest and lived-in. In fact, that’s ultimately half the joke…the duo in Superbad constantly assert their heterosexuality as way of expressing their homosociality. (“P.S. I love you“, indeed.) Admittedly, the film does drag some as it goes along, particularly during all the interminable cop shenanigans (or when Seth voices — over and over again — his abject Freudian horror at menstrual blood.) But watching Cera squirm through another uncomfortable conversation — or seeing Fogel groovin’ in that swanky vest — makes Superbad feel like a funky, sweet throwback to those high-school days of yore.

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