Tag Archives: Kick Ass

American Ultra (2015)


American Ultra has surely got to be the worst — or the least — promoted film with “name stars” to be released this year. Despite a cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, among others, I didn’t even see one trailer or poster for the film until just a couple of days before I watched it.

That’s very strange, because apart from the stars, American Ultra can also be considered a fringe superhero film, and we all know how popular that genre is these days.

And so I thought American Ultra must suck pretty bad to receive this kind of silent treatment from the studio and fans alike. In reality, it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even bad. It’s just not as good as it should have been.

The premise goes like this: Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike, a stoner who works at a convenience store, and Kristen Stewart is Phoebe, his girlfriend. His life is blissfully banal until one night, Mike discovers that he’s basically Jason Bourne, and so begins a night of crazy mayhem as the young couple is hunted down by lethal assassins.

I know what you’re thinking — American Ultra is based on a comic book, right? I thought so too, but it’s not. It’s just a movie that feels like it is. I have a feeling the film was aiming for that Kick-Ass vibe — stylish, unexpectedly and brutally violent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek and way over the top.

However, American Ultra is just a class or two below Kick-Ass in just about every category. It doesn’t have that same exuberance, sense of fun or confidence. The action is also nowhere near as stylised. And most of all, despite being called an action-comedy, the film is surprisingly light on the comedy, with nary a laugh to be found throughout the 96-minute running time.

You might disagree, though for me it makes sense after discovering that the director of the film is Nima Nourizadeh, the Iranian-British dude who made Project X, one of my most loathed films in recent years. I just found that film stupid, obnoxious and unfunny. American Ultra is a lot better, of course, but I still feel like it was a waste of a huge opportunity because of the intriguing potential of the premise.

The performances are not the problem. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are fairly good in their roles, and John Leguizamo always brings some extra pizzazz to every movie. Topher Grace, however, seems like he’s trying a little too hard to be the archetypal cardboard villain. Maybe it’s way of protesting such a one-dimensional role.

On the whole, my opinion of American Ultra is lukewarm. It doesn’t quite deserve the box office failure it has experienced (barely scraping back half of its US$28 million budget), though it probably deserves its fate of becoming one of those movies that barely rings a bell in a few years.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Regardless of what I or anyone thinks of the teen superhero action flick Kick-Ass (based on the comic of the same name), one thing is for sure — I’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s so different from any other superhero or teen movie that it doesn’t really deserve to be put into a specific category.  It’s funny, insightful, crude, and outrageously violent, to the point where it has caused a lot of controversy amongst conservative groups.

Stuff that and stuff them.  Be warned about the film’s content, the over-the-top, brutal violence involving teenagers and pre-teen children, and the nasty language they use.  If you don’t like it, fair enough.  Don’t watch it.  Don’t take your kids to see it.  Advise others against it.  But please, let less uptight people enjoy it for what it is — an original, strangely poignant action film where the blood and violence is so crazy that it is obviously comical, and disturbing — but in a good way.

The premise of the film is rather straightforward.  A typical teenager, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), wonders why ordinary people don’t help others in need, and why there aren’t any “real” superheroes out there.  So he takes matters into his own hands and becomes Kick-Ass, a masked vigilante who gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles across truly dangerous criminals (led by Mark Strong) and “true” superheroes (played by Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz).

If you think Kick-Ass is a cookie-cutter superhero parody, you’re in for a nasty surprise.  From the very first scenes where Dave gives us an insight into his life, and the introduction of Cage’s “Big Daddy” and Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, I could tell the film was going to be a lot darker and much more uncomfortable than your ordinary superhero flick.  You just don’t normally see films like this tackle the type of issues and subjects that Kick-Ass does, you just don’t see 11-year old girls use those sorts of words (!), and you certainly don’t see them slicing people up and shooting them in the head.  But these are the things that keep Kick-Ass fresh and compelling to watch.

Like all superhero movies, Kick-Ass requires suspension of disbelief, but director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) makes the world in which the characters inhabit about as believable as it could be.

However, Kick-Ass is far from perfect.  The tone was very uneven — the mix of regular teen comedy jokes and extremely dark, unsettling violent comedy, plus actual serious plot/character development scenes made it a difficult ride on the emotional roller coaster.  Further, at 117-minutes, the film was and felt too long.  And while I liked Dave’s friends, the whole love interest subplot was lost on me.  Not enough attention was given to it (in my opinion) to make it work.

Having said that, I have little doubt Kick-Ass will go down as a cult classic.  Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, of course, steals the show, even though Aaron Johnson manages to portray Kick-Ass as a highly likable protagonist.  The truth is, the action scenes in Kick-Ass are simply phenomenal, better than most “pure” action films out there today.  It’s heavily influenced by John Woo’s films (especially the earlier flicks), and the film itself recognises this.  And I loved the tributes to classics I won’t spoil by mentioning.

Yes, Kick-Ass is confronting and unsettling and controversial.  But don’t we want more films like that?

4 out of 5 stars!