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Kick-Ass 2

While far from perfect, and certainly not as good as some fanboys claimed it to be, 2010’s “Kick-Ass” was a welcome addition to a cinematic landscape that was just beginning its superhero boom, arguably brought on by the success of “Iron Man” two years prior. The film took the superhero tropes we had come to know and mocked them, spoofing the genre while simultaneously creating a self-parody; a “Scream” for superheroes. Although inconsistent in that parody, it was nevertheless charming and funny enough to make the movie an easily watchable affair. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for “Kick-Ass 2.” The parody is thin, if not non-existent, the humor falls flat and the drama is inflated to an unmerciful degree. If you’re a big fan of the first movie, prepare to be disappointed here.

Taking place sometime after the events of the first movie, superheroes have become all the rage. The streets are littered with self-proclaimed heroes who, in reality, don’t do much of anything, much less stop evildoers. Once again feeling the need to take action, Dave Lizewski, also known as Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johson) returns to the streets. It’s there he meets Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) who introduces him to a new league of superheroes forming an Avengers-esque team. There’s Insect Man (Robert Emms), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), their leader, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), and even Dave’s old friend, Marty, now known as Battle Guy (Clark Duke). Their formation couldn’t come at a better time because a league of supervillains is also forming. They’re led by Kick-Ass’s nemesis, Chris D’Amico, who now calls himself The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Even worse, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) has vowed to her new guardian that she would stop putting herself in danger and is unable to help Kick-Ass and his team.

The thing about the superhero genre, especially after all these consecutive years of watching our movie theaters get overrun by them, is that they practically parody themselves at this point. Look at this summer’s “Iron Man 3” as an example, particularly in the way (spoiler alert!) that it handled one of its main antagonists, The Mandarin, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley. It took this mysterious figure, one that threatened death and destruction and was feared around the world and deconstructed him into a joke, and a quite effective one at that (though I’m sure some comic fans will disagree). Like any good parody, it took our expectation of who and what a superhero villain should be and turned it on its head. For “Kick-Ass 2” to remain relevant, it needed to do something vastly different.

And it does, though the decided emphasis is misguided at best and downright disastrous at worst. Surprisingly, this sequel takes a drastic turn from the general goofiness of the original film and ratchets up the drama. While not necessarily a bad thing in theory, the drama was the first film’s primary downfall. Upon my initial viewing, I thought it was because it simply didn’t gel well with the over-the-top antics of the scenes those brief dramatic moments were wedged in between, but if this movie is any indication, it’s simply because it’s just not done well, no doubt enhanced by director Jeff Wadlow’s inexperience with such matters (and whose only other feature length efforts are “Cry_Wolf” and “Never Back Down,” hardly an impressive pedigree).

Whereas the drama in “Kick-Ass” merely bogged down a bit of the fun, the drama hear bogs down the entire movie. If it’s not the embarrassing “Mean Girls”-esque subplot where Hit Girl is trying to fit in at school as a normal teenager, it’s heavy handed dialogue and ridiculous slow motion shots (including the obligatory “phone dropping to the floor after receiving bad news” shot). However, none of it is done in jest, rarely acknowledging its self-aware undercurrents that were so prevalent in its predecessor. The only person who seems to understand the absurdity of the movie he’s in is Mintz-Plasse as The Motherfucker, who, despite an overall darker character turn, transitions well from the previous movie, bringing what little fun he can to a movie that is anything but.

It would be unfair to place blame on the other actors, though. Carrey, in particular, is fantastic as Colonel Stars and Stripes while the rest of the cast similarly does what is called for. The problem lies in the screenplay, which slaps them in far-too-dark, overly emotional nonsense. While some clever moments remain intact, the bulk of the film fails to elicit the excitement, fun or humor of what came before. The action is serviceable, but nowhere near as stylish, the laughs are few and far between and the story lacks polish—loose ends are left unresolved and recognizable characters from the last installment show up briefly for a line or two before disappearing, never to be heard from or mentioned again. “Kick-Ass 2” had the potential to be bigger and better, to take the solid foundation of “Kick-Ass” and make it something special, but it fails on nearly all fronts.

Kick-Ass 2 receives 1.5/5


A Thousand Words

Back in college, I was lucky enough to nab a one-on-one, in person interview with Clark Duke, who was in DC promoting his upcoming film, Hot Tub Time Machine. As a nervous, first-time-interviewing college student, I asked your typical interview questions because I was unable to handle myself in such situations. Near the end of the interview, I asked him what he had coming next because, aside from the little seen Sex Drive, he hadn’t done much and wasn’t well known (Kick-Ass had not yet been released). He said to me that later that year, a movie he had done with Eddie Murphy called A Thousand Words would be released. This was in January of 2010. Now here we are, over two years later, and it’s just now seeing the light of day. Originally filmed in 2008 and delayed multiple times, it’s been sitting on the shelf for four years. Directed by Brian Robbins, the same man behind recent Eddie Murphy travesties Norbit and Meet Dave (and taken with the fact that it wasn’t screened for critics), chances were A Thousand Words would be unwatchable dreck, but it’s not. I know I’m in the minority on this one and it’s certainly not a great movie, but there’s more to it than Robbins’ other directorial efforts, which is a happy surprise.

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a literary agent who claims he can sign anybody to do anything. When he discovers the popularity of a New Age spiritual guru, Dr. Sinja, played by Cliff Curtis, who has just written a new self help book, he sets off to make him his next big paycheck. When he arrives, he stumbles upon a tree that cuts him when he touches it. Upon arriving home, he mysteriously finds that same tree in his back yard. At first, he doesn’t think much of it, but soon he realizes that with every word he speaks, a leaf falls off. He and the tree are connected, so whatever happens to it, happens to him. Once it loses its leaves, it will die and so will Jack.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Thousand Words is not very funny. While it’s not as immature as Norbit or as family friendly as Meet Dave, it never seems to take off. It has a chuckle or two here and there (one scene in particular where Jack’s assistant, played by Clark Duke, acts like Jack in a high pressure situation, which includes excessive language and over-the-top mannerisms—in typical Eddie Murphy style—is quite funny), but the comedy fails far more often than it succeeds. For about half of the film’s 90 minute runtime, it’s practically unwatchable, but then something strange happens. It transitions from a zany comedy to a well meaning and moderately effective drama.

Jack is someone who takes language for granted. His job requires him to say whatever is necessary to close a deal, even if it means lying through his teeth, but when he discovers his connection with the tree, his words are taken away. His relationship with his wife, played by the beautiful Kerry Washington, is simultaneously falling apart and she’s threatening to take their infant son and leave. He has used his words throughout his entire career to accomplish many things, but none ever really meant anything to him. When he actually needs his words to save the one thing in the world that’s important to him, he finds he doesn’t have enough left. Although this certainly isn’t the most profound movie in the world, I appreciated the thematic juxtaposition of a man who spoke and spoke without saying much of anything at all discovering how powerful his words can be.

There’s an additional side story involving Jack’s mentally weakening mother that doesn’t really work and has no true bearing on the story at hand (despite a solid performance from screen veteran Ruby Dee) and a couple of out of place visions are far too on the nose to be effective, but A Thousand Words surprised me with its sincerity. This isn’t just crudeness for the sake of crudeness like Norbit. This is a moderately intelligent movie that actually aims to make a point. It may not fully live up to its potential, but it also far exceeds its expectations. I may be chastised for this one, but consider this my recommendation.

A Thousand Words receives 3/5


Hot Tub Time Machine

Back in January, I was invited to attend an early screening of a little film called Hot Tub Time Machine. It was a rough cut and it was, well, a little rough. The editing needed to be tighter and a few side story issues needed to be resolved. Now it has been completed and the finished product is, well, still a little rough. It's a shoddily structured, messily interpreted hour and a half trip through an unoriginal screenplay reminiscent of dozens of other time traveling films that simply replaces whatever time traveling device they used with a hot tub. Still, its goofy nature and fun, unabashed ridiculousness are hard to deny.

The story, as irrelevant as it may be, can be summarized in one sentence. After Lou, played by Rob Corddry, tries to kill himself, his friends Adam, Nick and Jacob, played by John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, travel to their old vacation spot, a ski resort in the mountains, where they are transported back to the 80’s via hot tub and must travel in the same footsteps they did all those years ago, lest they disrupt the past and change the future for the worse.

Much like Snakes on a Plane or the more recent Ninja Assassin, Hot Tub Time Machine is a movie most will want to see based on the delightfully absurd title alone. Those people will not be disappointed. Like a good spoof movie, the film never stops with the jokes. It never bothers with heart or meaning or character development. It simply provides a constant string of gags that allow the four actors to play off each other.

Unfortunately, for every hilarious joke, there was one that fell flatter than an anorexic supermodel, including disgusting bodily fluid jokes that even the most juvenile of viewers will find degrading. Blood, urine, vomit, you name it, this movie has it. In the first 20 minutes alone, you get all of the above and then some, bringing to mind a scene where Nick digs out keys from the anus of an animal and throws them at someone. This type of lowbrow humor is to be expected, but that doesn't make it funny.

It's during the more perceptive scenes that Hot Tub Time Machine really shines. It knows what it is—over-the-top, tongue in cheek and very silly—and it takes its 80’s setting and capitalizes on it. Cusack, known for his seminal roles in 80’s films like Say Anything, is used to the fullest and the film puts him in situations that echo movies of that era, even going so far as to duplicate one of the most famous shots from Sixteen Candles, a film which he played a minor role in.

In a way, Hot Tub Time Machine is kind of smart in its stupidity. There is nothing going on behind the camera, but the comedic chemistry of the four actors is good and the witty script prove some thought went into it. It’s ironic, really. The film has brains, but you’ll have to turn yours off to enjoy it.

Hot Tub Time Machine receives 3/5