06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Kick-Ass

There was a riff on 30 Rock a couple of weeks ago where the show's characters rattled off a list of words that were now allowed to be spoken on the air. You could feel show-creator Tiny Fey messing with the NBC censors, daring them to bleep one of the terms that were now supposedly fit for public consumption.

I thought of that as I walked down a street in Manhattan recently and spotted a taxi-top ad for the movie Kick-Ass, which opens Friday (4/16/10). It made me wonder how old-school media -- you know, family newspapers -- were going to handle this film's title (or, for that matter, July's Dinner for Schmucks), when there are still those that won't even allow the use of the acronym "m.i.l.f." for fear that youngsters might ask what it stands for.

(Amazing the difference a couple of decades makes. I remember the arguments at a newspaper where I used to work over whether it was permissible to use the whole title of the Stephen Frears film, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. This was around the same time that a copy editor got in trouble for allowing in print a quote by Cher in which she used the words "pissed off.")

Anyway, if only Kick-Ass were as nervy and entertaining as its brazen title. Unfortunately, the weakest part of Kick-Ass is, well, Kick-Ass himself.

This film by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) is based on a comic book, about comic-book geeks and is even partially set in a comic-book store - not a nerdy one but a hip one with espresso and the like. One of the denizens of this particular shop is Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-book geek who fantasizes about being a super-hero.

"How come nobody ever actually does it?" he asks his friends, referring to dressing up in costumes and fighting crime. So, like Bruce Wayne, he fashions an outfit for himself and begins to roam the streets (ostensibly New York; obviously Toronto), looking to help victims and right wrongs. He buys himself a kelly-green scuba suit and mask with yellow trim and hits the streets.

Unlike Bruce Wayne, however, Dave never actually undergoes any training in a martial-arts discipline. Though he carries a couple of long wooden batons (without even the heft of baseball bats) in a quiver on his back, he discovers his shortcomings on his very first attempt at heroism -- when a guy knifes him in the gut.

Dave, however, is too dumb to quit. The next time out, he intervenes in a three-on-one beatdown -- and keeps getting up, despite being knocked down several times. (His resilience is attributed to severed nerve endings from his previous injury, which supposedly keeps him from feeling pain -- though how they'd keep him from being knocked out is never addressed.) His battle royal happens in front of a donut shop, where some young Tarantino-in-training films it all with his cell phone and posts it on YouTube. And Kick-Ass suddenly is a star.