‘Kick-Ass 2″ Clearly Doesn’t; ‘The Millers” Provides Awkward, Vulgar Laughs

kick ass 2MOVIE REVIEW – ‘KICK-ASS 2’

Movie Info

His heroic antics having inspired a citywide wave of masked vigilantes, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joins their ranks to help clean up the streets, only to face a formidable challenge when the vengeful Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) transforms himself into the world’s first super villain in this sequel written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down). Dave/Kick-Ass and Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are about to graduate high school and become a crime-fighting duo when their noble plans are foiled by Mindy’s strict parents. Now, as Mindy hangs up her Hit Girl uniform and navigates the treacherous high-school social scene, Kick-Ass begins patrolling the streets with Justice Forever, a fearless group of urban watchdogs fronted by former mob thug Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). They’ve got the criminal element on the run when Chris D’Amico lays his Red Mist persona to rest, and reemerges as The Mother F**ker, a powerful criminal mastermind with a loyal legion of henchmen. The Mother F**ker is determined to avenge the death of his late father, who previously perished at the hands of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl. Now, as The Mother F**ker and his minions begin targeting the members of Justice Forever, Hit Girl realizes that the only way to save Kick-Ass and his new friends is to emerge from her forced retirement, and fight back with everything she’s got. John Leguizamo, Donald Faison, Morris Chestnut, and Robert Emms co-star.

R, 1 hr. 53 min.

Action & Adventure, Comedy

‘Kick-Ass 2’ review
By Robbie Collin, Film Critic
WWW.DAILYTELEGRAPH.COM
To call your film Kick-Ass is to work on the assumption that your audience is excited by the prospect of having their asses metaphorically kicked. In 2010, Matthew Vaughn’s Day-Glo romp about children who become superheroes certainly lived up to that buttock-bruising promise: in its most famous sequence, an 11-year-old schoolgirl lopped the limbs off drug dealers with a double-ended spear to the theme tune from The Banana Splits, shortly after using the kind of language that would fall foul of David Cameron’s internet filter.

Set against the 12A-rated empowerment fantasies of the Spider-Man and X-Men series, Vaughn’s film felt genuinely transgressive and inspired no end of media outrage, some of which may have even been sincere. But in Kick-Ass 2, when a gang of costumed enforcers smash up a gambling den to the strains of When the Saints Go Marching In, you shrug because you’ve seen something very much like it before in a film called Kick-Ass. Maybe cinema really does have a copycat violence problem.

Jeff Wadlow, the sequel’s director and writer, would no doubt claim the scene is an homage: whether or not that’s the case, it looks and functions like a rip-off. Besides, the original Hit-Girl sequence was a reworking of the nightclub battle in Kill Bill Vol.1, which was in turn heavily inspired by Kenji Misumi’s Lone Wolf and Cub films, and there is only so much photocopying one great pop culture meme can take before the quality starts to decay.

Three years have passed since the events of Kick-Ass, and 17-year-old Dave Lizewski, played by the conspicuously 23-year-old Aaron Taylor-Johnson, has hung up his turquoise and yellow battle suit. Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), AKA Hit-Girl, the first film’s juvenile limb-lopper, begs Dave, AKA Kick-Ass, to get back into the game. He does – and then for reasons inadequately explained by Wadlow’s script, which he adapted from the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, she drops out.

Hit-Girl was the most fascinating character in the original film, and she’s doubly so here, although that’s mostly down to a lack of competition. Her adoptive father (Morris Chestnut) tries to get mousy Mindy to mix with “normal girls” at school – for this, read Mean Girls-style horrors – and when a blonde cheerleader-type asks her, “Don’t you want to walk out of your house in skin-tight clothing, like a strong, independent woman?”, Moretz’s goofy half-smile almost sells you the picture single-handedly.

That dressing-up-box fantasy aspect of comic book fandom – the chance to be someone you’re not for a night – was a nerve the original Kick-Ass film expertly twanged, but in the sequel, Dave joins a team of amateur heroes whose alter-egos are barely explored. One calls himself Colonel Stars and Stripes, and is played by Jim Carrey, who took to Twitter last month to retroactively deplore the level of on-screen violence, paycheque presumably safely in the bank. In the end, Carrey makes so negligible an impact on the film that perhaps if he’d kept quiet, no-one would have noticed he was in it.

Kick-Ass and his team are battling a spoilt little rich kid called Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose father was killed in the first film and who has recast himself as a supervillain with an unprintable name. His acts of villainy range from the usual gorily rendered beatings and stabbings to an attempted rape, which is played for laughs.

That may be all the warning you need to give Kick-Ass 2 a wide berth, although the lack of purpose to the scene made me despair rather than its lack of taste. It’s just another worthless skit in a film chock-full of them, cheap rather than nasty and forgotten the moment it passes. Your ass is constantly braced in readiness and hope, but it remains un-kicked.

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the millersMOVIE REVIEW – ‘THE MILLERS’

Movie Info

David Burke (Jason Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer whose clientele includes chefs and soccer moms, but no kids-after all, he has his scruples. So what could go wrong? Plenty. Preferring to keep a low profile for obvious reasons, he learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished when he tries to help out some local teens and winds up getting jumped by a trio of gutter punks. Stealing his stash and his cash, they leave him in major debt to his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms). In order to wipe the slate clean-and maintain a clean bill of health-David must now become a big-time drug smuggler by bringing Brad’s latest shipment in from Mexico. Twisting the arms of his neighbors, cynical stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and wannabe customer Kenny (Will Poulter), and the tatted-and-pierced streetwise teen Casey (Emma Roberts), he devises a foolproof plan. One fake wife, two pretend kids and a huge, shiny RV later, the “Millers” are headed south of the border for a Fourth of July weekend that is sure to end with a bang.

R, 1 hr. 40 min.

Comedy
‘We’re the Millers’ review: Awkward Laughs

Comedy by committee both cynical, loving toward family life

By Mick LaSalle
www.sfchronicle.com
Comedies are getting more and more vulgar, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Fifteen years ago, just about every comedy was rated PG-13, and anything to do with families ended on some fake sentimental uplift straight out of an old TV sitcom. New comedies are a relief from that, but when they’re vulgar for the sake of vulgar, that’s just another form of dishonesty,

“We’re the Millers” is right down the middle, sometimes crude to be crude, sometimes finding humor in the crude world we live in. Sometimes it’s labored, sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it feels like four people worked on the screenplay and not one of them loved it, and sometimes it sneaks up and finds a laugh or two.

Get past the comedy and there’s something almost weird at the movie’s core – a deep cynicism about family and a longing for family, both at the same time. But the screenplay is too much of a patchwork to express anything deep or unconscious.

Still, the setup has something: Jason Sudeikis is David, a small-time drug dealer who is forced to go to Mexico to pick up several tons of marijuana and drive it across the border. Because a lone, scruffy guy crossing the border is more likely to get stopped than a wholesome American family, he recruits a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his wife and hires a runaway (Emma Roberts) and a neighbor (Will Poulter) to impersonate their kids for the drug run.

That adventure and its aftermath make up “We’re the Millers,” and along the way, we find the usual personality clashes and gunplay – yes, gunplay; it’s a comedy about drug smuggling, after all. A big weakness of the movie is that its characters are constantly doing things against their own interests. Comedies don’t need to be believable, but they do need to be logical.

Just one example of many: At one point, with enough drugs in their RV to send them up the river for decades, Rose (Aniston) and David decide to rob a DEA officer. Why would they do something so incredibly insane? Because, as it turns out, there’s a comic bit at the end of that chain that someone wanted to cram in. It’s that kind of thing, again and again: Awkwardness, character distortion and strain, followed by almost enough laughs to be worth it.

Playing a stripper is outside Aniston’s usual zone, allowing her to be a little more coarse than usual. That’s fine, and she makes the most of it, though the stripping scenes aren’t flattering. It’s not that she doesn’t look good – actually, she looks great – but there’s an age at which silly and flamboyant display makes emotional and aesthetic sense, and whatever that age is, it’s really, really young. However, on her resume, Aniston can now check off pole dancing.

As befitting a movie written by a committee, “We’re the Millers” is too long, with everyone’s bits included. But the cast carries it a long way. Sudeikis is appealing, if a little too nasty at times, though that’s partly the role. The young actors, Roberts and Poulter, are comically skilled. And Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman are fairly funny to the extent they get a chance to be.

All these mild virtues don’t quite add up to a recommendation, but if you said you wanted to see “We’re the Millers,” I wouldn’t block the door.

Mick LaSalle is the San Francisco Chronicle’s movie critic. E-mail: mlasalle@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @MickLaSalle

 

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