At one point in "Kick-Ass 2," the teenage Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the self-made superhero from the subversive 2010 original film, wears a T-shirt that reads "I hate reboots." The shirt gets a huge laugh from the audience.
But you know what I hate? Lame, leaden sequels to fun, vibrant movies. What seemed edgy and brash in "Kick-Ass" is now routine and old-hat. The first movie was a brash satire on formulaic comic-book movies _ exactly the sort of picture the sequel turns out to be.
Writer-director Jeff Wadlow ("Never Back Down"), taking over the reins from Matthew Vaughn (who only served as producer this time), has made a movie that manages to meld the worst elements of Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin" with Paul Greengrass' epileptic-cam from the Jason Bourne movies. The action sequences in "Kick-Ass 2" consist of lots of handheld, shaky camera work.
But that sense of gritty realism keeps the movie from being fun: When a roided-out Russian female bodybuilder kills 10 police officers outside a home where a woman is being raped, the film becomes a major downer. And when a group of superheroes rushes in to fight a pack of supervillains, all the cheesy costumes and gaudy colors make the whole thing look cheap and dumb, like a Halloween costume party where the drunken revelers started whaling away at each other.
The plot of "Kick-Ass 2," which is taken from Mark Millar's comic, feels like something that was written solely to cash in on the first film's success. The villainous Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who vowed to avenge the death of his gangster father in the first film, kills his mother early in the movie, comes across some leather S&M garb hidden in her closet and rechristens himself with a name that cannot be repeated here. Claiming wealth as his superpower, he buys himself a roster of ex-convicts and murderers to take down Kick-Ass and his newly-formed gang of superheroes, which includes an unrecognizable Jim Carrey as an ex-mob enforcer turned born-again Christian who calls himself Col. Stars and Stripes.
Carrey has distanced himself from the movie and spoke out against it in June, stating that he couldn't promote it in good conscience after the Sandy Hook shootings. But the movie is so cartoonish and ridiculous, the actor's stance seems misguided. Practically no one in "Kick-Ass 2" looks like they want to be there. Taylor-Johnson, a British actor who made for an endearing American kid in the first film, looks much too old for the part this time, and his attempt to make his voice sound younger is noticeable to point of distraction. Mintz-Plasse gives the first all-out bad performance of his career, turning his character into a grating, insufferable brat.
The only person to come away from the movie unscathed is Chloe Grace Moretz, whose performance as the 13-year-old Hit Girl in the first film was the focal point of most of the controversy that surrounded it. Now 15, she still spouts bad words and kills bad guys, but her behavior isn't quite as shocking.
The actress even gets her own subplot recounting her attempts to fit in at high school and the mean girls standing in her way. The outrageous resolution of that conflict feels like a warm-up to her lead performance in the "Carrie" remake due this fall. But even that scene falls flat, resorting to gross-out gags and CGI-diarrhea, an indication of the level of wit at work here.
"Kick-Ass 2" isn't irritatingly bad or torturous to sit through. But it does remind you of just how good the first movie was and shows how easily a film can come off as trying too hard.
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, ChloA" Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Clark Duke.
Writer-director: Jeff Wadlow. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
Producers: Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, David Read.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 103 minutes.
Rated R: Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, adult themes.