There’s a throwaway gag halfway through “Kick-Ass 2” that got a rare laugh from the fanboys and -girls in the audience. Our hero Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a high school comic-book nerd and masked after-school crime fighter, pops up in a T-shirt proclaiming “I Hate Reboots.” It would have been more self-aware if the slogan was “I Hate Sequels.” This follow-up film bungles the original cult hit’s stylized ultraviolence and blunts its wincingly sharp humor.
The first “Kick-Ass” made a joke of the idea that vigilantes could turn street justice into blood sport and emerge with their souls unscathed. Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”), who co-wrote, produced and directed the original, laid out the yarn with a storyteller’s gift, lampooning our most horrendous revenge fantasies. He rendered the pulp material in hyperbolic style.
The new film, written and directed by graceless journeyman filmmaker Jeff Wadlow, mistakenly believes that crotch kicks and wisecracks are uproarious all on their own. Without Vaughn’s porno-Dadaist wit, “Kick-Ass 2” is a sick joke minus the joke. Jim Carrey publicly announced that he is so turned off by the new movie that he regrets co-starring in it and refuses to promote it.
The main story comes straight from the Action Movie Plot Generator. Dave, a k a Kick-Ass; his foulmouthed partner in beat-em-up Mindy Macready/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), and their sidekick-turned-nemesis Chris D’Amico/Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) return more or less where we left them three years ago. Except that Chris, the orphan of a crime boss eliminated by Kick-Ass, now lives in palatial splendor as the wealthiest teenager in New York. (With great power comes tax breaks.)
Donning his late mother’s vinyl S&M regalia as his new costume, Chris vows to “kill Kick-Ass with my bare hands,” a tall order when you’re a wormy little nebbish. Delegating the rough stuff (“My superpower is that I’m rich!”), Chris hires a multicultural goon squad, christening his henchmen with monikers like Black Death and Genghis Carnage. When his right-hand man (John Leguizamo) chastises him for trading in racial stereotypes, Chris snaps, “Archetypes!” All insecurity, false bravado and childish rage, Mintz-Plasse delivers the only sparky performance in the film.
Elsewhere, Mindy confronts high school mean girls more nefarious than any supervillain. Armed with sarcasm, eye rolls and the silent treatment, they try to turn the fearless tomboy into a dainty, devious facsimile of themselves. At a sleepover they brainwash her with a music video from the Brit boy band Union J. This could have led to a fully fleshed subplot, with the fashion squad adopting Hit Girl. I would have liked to see them teaching her how to wear her demi-cape, draped off one shoulder with just a sassy touch of confident playfulness, but it was not to be. Mindy’s eventual retaliation against the catty clique, with a stomach-scrambling “sick stick,” proves that you can be more explicit about gastric distress than “Bridesmaids” without being half as funny.
Meanwhile, Dave resists his crush on the nubile, underage Mindy and teams up with a ragtag heroes’ league. Their leader is Col. Stars and Stripes (Carrey), a thug turned born-again Christian who enforces law and order with a red, white and blue ax handle and a German shepherd attack dog named Eisenhower. With his buzz cut, camo costume and he-man stubble, the big palooka resembles Sgt. Rock gone to seed.
The dated insight here is that the line between pro bono public guardian and lunatic vigilante is near-invisible. All these costumed weirdos share an insatiable hunger for retribution, garnished with righteous wrath, simmered with a hint of bloodlust, and arranged on a bed of revenge served cold. What “Kick-Ass 2” delivers is stale, unappetizing and slathered in too much red sauce.