Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Genre: Action Comedy
Premise: Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so. (from IMDB)
About: Kick-Ass is Matthew Vaughn’s third directing effort (behind Layer Cake and Stardust). What some people don’t know about Vaughn is that before he became a director, he was Guy Ritchie’s producer, producing such films as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and even the Madonna debacle, Swept Away. Kick-Ass stars Nicholas Cage and McLovin, as well as Chloe Moretz and Aaron Johnson.
Status of Draft: Development – 2nd Draft
Status of Project: Completed
Writers: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (based on the Marvel/Icon comic mini-series from Mark Milllar and John Romita Jr.)
Details: 105 pages (Because this is a 2nd draft, many things may have changed in the final shooting script, although I will say that pretty much everything I saw in the trailer is in the script).

I dig anyone brave enough to shun convention. Matthew Vaughn, however confusing and divisive his choices may be, doesn’t really give a shit about posters and, quote unquote, marketability. He just goes out and makes movies he’d like to see. Hollywood can sort out the rest. I know there are people who absolutely despise Stardust, and I won’t argue that it’s a mixed bag, but hell if it isn’t divinely inspired in places. I loved Robert DiNero’s character, and the “dead-man” sword fight near the end attempts something so few writers ever even try, which is to take a well-known device and put a spin on it.

What’s interesting about Kickass is that it’s probably the most predictable of his ideas (even though it's not technically his idea). The “normal guy becomes a super-hero” angle is about as popular a screenplay choice as American Idol is a TV show. We’ve seen it in the simultaneously overrated and underrated Unbreakable, the hideously bad Mystery Men, the most annoying actor in movies’ (Michael Rapaport) film, “Special,” and those are just the ones that made it into production. I see the idea in countless spec screenplays all the time (both sold and unsold). For all these attempts, however, nobody has cracked the formula. So I welcome people to keep trying. Until someone gets it right, the idea is fair game.

When I watched the trailer for Kick-Ass, I found myself saying, “This guy gets it.” The characters look inspired, the tone feels fresh, and the movie just looks downright fun. The only issue here is that we’re still talking about Matthew Vaughn. The man can have inspired moments of genius but follow them with head-scratching tangents that are about as organic to the story as that popcorn butter they serve in the theater. As a filmmaker, I trust this guy. But as a writer? I’m still not sure. Let’s find out if he and Goldman brought it.

Dave Lizewski is your average dork, dweeb, nerd. He isn’t noticed at school. And on the rare occasion that he is, it’s usually because he did something stupid. Dave gives you direct insight into his life via voice over, which runs pretty much throughout the entire script, and is overwhelmingly present here in the first act. I have no problem with voice over as a choice and it seems to fit the mood here so I went with it.

Kick-Ass’s first misstep is in its flimsy motivation for why its main character decides to become a superhero. Nothing really pushes Dave into becoming a super-hero other than he wakes up one day and wonders why normal people can’t be superheroes. With the tone of this script being so light, I suppose you could forgive this, but it would’ve been nice to see his choice stem from something more personal (or at least a personal experience).

So Dave stitches together a costume, grabs a couple of sticks, and goes out to fight crime as his brand new superhero alias: Kick-Ass. His first attempts don’t exactly land him in the super hero Hall of Fame though, as he’s beaten to within inches of his life. Back at the hospital, Vaughn comes through with his first bout of randomness, inserting a scene where Dave has daydreams about Chinese families telling him he’s going to be reincarnated, as well as the obligatory giant talking spider! I will give Vaughn this. The man's unpredictable.

Meanwhile, we meet Damon Macready and his 11 year old daughter, Mindy (aka “Big Daddy” and “Hit Girl”). These two are *real* super-heroes. Or wait. They’re normal people pretending to be super-heroes but who are *really* good at it. I'm actually not sure what they are, since even though they've been around a lot longer than Kick-Ass has, nobody knows about them. Also in the mix is mega-rich crime boss Frank D’Amico and his son Chris D’Amico (played by McLovin). Frank is trying to keep his strangle-hold of the city’s drug trade in line while the isolated Chris is just trying to lead a somewhat normal existence.

When Dave’s follow-up attempts to fight crime start to (sorta) work, he becomes a Youtube sensation, which gets the attention of real-life crimefighters Big Daddy and Hit Girl, as well as Chris, who eventually wants a part of the action and invents his own superhero persona, “Red Mist.”

Much like the trailer, the tone here is light and easy, with plenty of jokes to keep you smiling the whole way through (particularly if you like masturbating. There is lots and LOTS of masturbating in Kick-Ass). Here’s the problem though. After finishing this script, I still didn’t know what it was about. There’s no clear-cut plot. There’s no real story here to speak of other than a bunch of semi-super-heroes attempting to fight crime. It’s as if that obsession with character was so great, that Vaughn forgot to give the characters anything to actually do. I mean if I was pressed for it, I’d probably say the plot was for the superheroes to disrupt Frank’s drug trafficking, but since this angle didn’t seem to have any obvious consequences (i.e. if they didn’t succeed, it's not like anything that bad would happen), I wasn’t sure what the focus was supposed to be.

I'll admit this is my problem with origin stories in general though and I understand the unique challenges in writing them. Usually the first act of a movie sets up the main problem. But comic book origin movies always end up getting fucked in this respect because they have to spend the first act introducing our character and how he becomes a superhero. This then forces you to set up your problem in the second act, and by that point the structure is already so fucked up that the entire rhythm of the story is thrown out of whack. Still, I would've liked for the threat to be made more clear in Kick-Ass.

As I mentioned before, the characters are, admittedly, hilarious and you can’t say “Red Mist” coupled with the thought of McLovin’s face without laughing (whoever did McLovin's hair in this should get a make-up Oscar next year). But once we reached that third act I just wasn't sure what I was supposed to be rooting for. "Drug people = bad" isn't enough for me these days. If there were any major changes in the subsequent drafts, I'm hoping that these are the issues they addressed.

I'll still go see this for the hilarious character work but if anything needed a kick in the ass here, it was the plot.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: You want there to be stakes in your finale. You want it to feel like if your characters don’t succeed, that the consequences will be devastating. If there’s nothing at stake in the final battle, why should we care about it? You can argue that just the fact that your hero’s life is at stake is enough, but you'd be wrong my compadre. Because stakes go both ways. What your hero *gains* from winning the battle is just as important as what he loses by losing the battle. So if he just gets to stay alive by winning, that won’t cut it. He has to foil something, save someone, disrupt or end something that would’ve otherwise ruined mankind. At the end of Star Wars, Luke doesn’t just survive the Empire, he destroys the damn Death Star! Since I was never clear what Kick Ass gained or lost from the final battle (which stemmed from an unclear plot), I wasn’t as involved as I wanted to be.