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Kick Ass

April 25, 2010
My daughter, when I forget to tivo Project Runway.

When I was in 6th grade, my mother dropped me off at an old art house theater in New Bedford and bought me a ticket to the special, Saturday afternoon double feature. 

The bill that day featured two John Belushi movies: 1941, a PG-rated, anarchic farce about panic in Los Angeles after Pearl Harbor; and National Lampoon’s Animal House, an R-rated  masterpiece of such raunchy repute – Wikipedia calls it “the  movie that launched the gross-out genre” – it likely requires no further explanation.

Why my mother allowed me to see Animal House is beyond me. I’m sure she had no idea what the movie was about, a vulnerability I exploited by feigning ignorance myself.

“I’m pretty sure dogs and cats are involved. And horses. And pigs. A house full of animals.”

When we got to the ticket counter and she saw that the movie had an R rating, she cast a suspicious eye on me. I played dumb, really dumb, shrugging and stammering and pleading a case for leniency I was certain I would lose, but in the end she relented. It had been a tough year – we had recently separated from my father, I was struggling in a new town and a new school, and she was consumed by course work, killing herself to complete her degree in Graphic Arts. Though it must have bothered her in principle, she ultimately just wanted me to be happy. How much lasting harm could an R-rated movie inflict? Not much, probably.

“I’ll be back around five,” she said, patting me on the greasy head. “Be good.”

“Thanks mom. Glove you,” I mumbled.

My first R-rated movie. A rite of passage! I couldn’t wait to tell the kids at school next Monday morning. My status in the greater community of twelve year old boys was about to rise a few notches.

Man, was I happy.

I disappeared into the dark, clutching my Sugar Babies and my bag of buttery popcorn, adrenaline coursing through my veins for the spectacle of awesomeness I was soon to behold. The movie did not disappoint; drunken debauchery, toga parties, peeping toms and topless pillow fights! And a history lesson as well! “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no! And it ain’t over now!” cried John “Bluto” Blutarsky, cheering his cohorts on to the third act and the revenge of Delta House against those weaselly pricks at Omega Theta Pi. I was always a conscientious student, and I picked up quite a lot in thirteen years of public school, but no single learning experience stands out quite like the education I received that day.

Every superhero has their origin story, an account of the circumstances by which they came to their new identity. Bruce Wayne became Batman, fighting crime after his parents were murdered on the streets of Gotham. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, and so became Spider Man, seeking to avenge the death of his murdered uncle. My transition was substantially less violent, my new identity forged not in tragedy and a hail of gunfire, but in a crucible of lewd humor and frontal and backal nudity. Sean Tabb, naïve but curious latch key child, on that day became Sean Tabb, a still pint-sized though marginally more experienced aficionado and proponent of irreverence, subversion and the occasional, gratuitous booby.

It was the promise of similar mayhem, mischief and taboo-tipping that attracted me to the movie Kick Ass. I don’t get out to the movies all that often any more. I enjoy them, but I can’t seem to find the time. It has to be an “event” movie to pique my interest, an entertainment so blatantly over the top only the big screen can contain it. It also helps if my wife has absolutely no interest in seeing it; otherwise, we tell ourselves we’ll rent it one day, and never do.

Kick Ass fits that criteria to a “T.” I didn’t know much about the movie going in; only that it had hot buzz, was based on a comic book about some nerdy, underwhelming, teen-aged superheroes, and featured a twelve year old actress in a key role, murdering mass quantities of bad guys while swearing her head off. Sold.

I assumed my customary position in the back row, broke out my contraband Milk Duds and Sprite (smuggled in the lining of my winter jacket, the wearing of which most certainly attracted suspicion, given that the outside temperature was 60 degrees), and commenced the expectant waiting for previews and casual observance / character-flaw assessment of the strangers around me. None of them compared to the beleaguered granny’mo (she was sort of old-young looking, somewhere between a mother and a grandmother, haggard enough and of indeterminate age that I failed to get a fix on her generational status, so classified her by this newly created contraction) who stumbled in behind her pack of unruly boys, four of them, ranging in age from eight-ish to about twelve.

You could pretty much hear the entire theater whisper “wh’uck?!” We were in silent, communal agreement that Kick Ass was not the place for prepubescent boys. I sat there hoping maybe these young fellas got lost on their way to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Regardless, I resolved to keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t my business. If they made a mistake, granny’mo would figure it out once the opening credits rolled, and they’d all scurry out single file under the cover of darkness. No harm done.

Kick Ass was neither as good nor as groundbreaking as I heard it would be. The plot involves a pimply-faced, mouth breathing high school geek named Dave Lizewski, who’s forever losing his comic book money in sidewalk muggings. No way to live, right? So naturally he decides to become a superhero himself, exacting retribution on the petty thieves and other assorted lowlifes who are terrorizing his neighborhood. He buys a ridiculous looking, bright teal wet suit from a mail order catalog, straps a couple riot sticks on his back and a beat-up pair of Timberlands on his toes, and heads out in broad daylight looking for trouble to thwart.

He finds some almost immediately, and learns a tough lesson about violence along the way: when the other guy is crazier than you, you’re screwed. A knife wound and a hit-and-run later, Dave is losing blood in the back of ambulance, pleading with the EMTs to quietly dispose of his superhero costume and tell no one what they saw. Anonymity is an important superhero trope, and particularly useful in those embarrassing moments when you’re broken body is scraped up off the pavement clad in a ridiculous looking, bright teal wet suit.

If at first you don’t succeed, I suggest quitting and finding another hobby, but then I’m no Dave Lizewski. After a stint in physical rehab, he returns to the mean streets. This time he’s serious: wiser from the wounds of his first encounter, and head-to-toe numb from the nerve damage he suffered when the car ran him over, an injury that can work to your advantage when some drug dealer starts beating the crap out of you. He stumbles into another dangerous situation, only this time things work out in his favor. As an added bonus, a bunch of kids are there to witness Dave’s heroics. They capture it on their iPhones and their Flip video recorders and post it on Youtube, and Dave Lizewski checks another superhero trope off his list of things to do. Cool nickname? “You can call me Kick Ass.”

Kick Ass becomes a local phenom, his popularity soars, but he isn’t the only superhero patrolling these city streets. Nicolas Cage graces the screen as Big Daddy, a guy in a Batman-like costume with a cool origin story, an arsenal of knives and automatic weapons that should embarrass the NRA (he even owns a bazooka. And don’t forget what the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once said: “If there’s a bazooka hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.”), and a vendetta against the local crime lord/mob boss Frank D’Amico*

(Author’s note: It is a strange convergence of fiction and reality that I once worked with a guy named Frank D’Amico, or “Franky Frank, the Stanky Stank,” as I liked to call him. He was a bonafide comic book dork himself, an avid collector of Marvel back issues and other memorabilia. I remember him once showing me a Hulk figurine he had newly acquired. “It’s a toy,” I blundered, failing to grasp the emotional resonance of this hunk of molded green plastic. “It’s not a toy,” he spit between teeth clenched with indignation. “It’s The Incredible Hulk 12” Figure from Mego Corp. Very rare.” Such are the true fans of comic culture.)

Frank (the character, not my ex-coworker) runs some racket involving drugs, fronted by a “legitimate” lumber business. His son Chris (played like a lump by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, he of Superbad /McLovin fame), desperate for some daddy affection, becomes a superhero too – Red Mist, a mole in the ranks, intent on bringing Big Daddy down.

Frank’s got about 150 goons on the payroll, and it spoils nothing to say that every one of them must die before the closing credits, in a perpetual melee of slashed throats, broken necks, and kill shots to the head. That most of this violence is perpetuated by Big Daddy’s daughter, an eleven year old girl in a purple wig who casually tosses off the C-word while the soundtrack pumps out Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,”  is truly the film’s only charm.

Her name is Hit Girl (played by 13 year old Chloe Grace Moretz, an actress who will one day rule the world.) Did you see Kill Bill? Imagine Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, as a spunky ‘tween with a John Woo knack for martial arts and butterfly knives, a vocabulary cribbed from the stall of a truck stop bathroom, and an overdeveloped lust for vigilante justice. That’s Hit Girl, and honestly, without her, the movie Kick Ass wouldn’t so much kick as it would suck that titular part of the anatomy.

But enough about the movie.  Back to the boys. They stayed for the entire film, glued to their seats, loving every minute of it I’m sure. This bothered me, but not for the reasons you might assume. At first, I was a little worried what twisted seeds all this death and destruction would plant in their tiny, impressionable heads. What were they learning in that dark theater, drooling over Hit Girl (their peer in terms of age, if not garroting skill) and her unique ability to wield samurai swords and kitchen utensils with the same deadly aplomb? Would they want a bazooka of their own? Would they pretend to kill one another in a fusillade of hollow-point bullets? Would they call one another “cocksucker”? Yeah, probably. But don’t blame it on the movie. Kick Ass is just reheating leftovers these boys have already eaten a thousand times before, in the trash their friends are talking on the playground, the X-box games they’re playing, the web sites they visit when granny’mo leaves the room, and the daily televised news from a violent war that’s been going on almost as long as they’ve been alive. That bothers me. It would take a real superhero to shield these kids from all that. But real superheroes don’t exist. Only in comic books. Kind of makes you long for the good old days, when all it took was a toga party or a topless pillow fight to shock and awe and educate a twelve year old boy.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara permalink
    April 25, 2010 8:36 pm

    So smart, from start to finish.
    Great sentiment.

    PS… love the photo caption.

  2. Kim Crabill permalink
    April 27, 2010 4:38 pm

    thanks for the brilliant insight — we almost got suckered into taking the girls to this last weekend by their cousins, several years older and obviously thinking a kick ass matinee would be much preferred over spending a rainy day hiking the fringes of seattle with their girly cousins.

    btw I love that you sneak your candy and soda in — you should see the contrivances we use to get sweets into the movie…i keep wondering when they’ll institute mandatory bag searches…sometimes it’s almost more embarrassing than having someone open the trunk at the drive-in movie so you can wrest yourself from between the tire jack and the emergency flares to see some botched attempt at summer humor.

  3. sean permalink*
    April 28, 2010 6:39 am

    Thanks Kim.

    My mother made me the concessions mule I am today. I remember when I was a kid she would actually cook the popcorn at home. She’d fill these big plastic bags with the stuff, which presented a smuggling challenge due to the basic physics of volume. I was always worried the ushers were going to swarm from their dark corners and take me down.

    Now I’ve just adopted an attitude of outrage and indignance – “you expect me to pay what for this crap? The nerve!” It’s a lesson I’m passing along to my own kids. Isaac asks no questions, but Lucy is clearly bothered by the moral implications. Oh well, as long as it comes out of my wallet, we’re breaking the law.


    • bill permalink
      May 5, 2010 11:58 am

      I’m picturing a rolling carry-on bag with a hibachi grill inside, and one of those camping water jugs with the spigot thing.

      And… maybe the theater worker (usher??) is 13 years old and armed with a bo-staff and a foul mouth: “YOU got the NERVE, pal! And I got theater policy, you old pennyscratcher: NO GRILLS!!” –WHACKS the grill with his staff–
      Sparks and hot dogs explode from the grill, shooting up toward the ceiling, lighting up the dark room with a red glow…

      Er. OK. Back to work.

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