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By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When a sequel can’t make a case for its own existence, it loses the chance to match its predecessor in impact.

That’s why Kick-Ass 2, a shameless redundancy, lacks the original’s kick.

The 2010 original, Kick-Ass, an action comedy based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, offered a fresh, exhilarating take on the ubiquitous superhero genre.

It was a high-octane thrill ride that made fun of the iconic superhero culture spawned by comic books even while it celebrated it: it was simultaneously parody and homage, reveling in absurdity and colorful, provocative excess.

(2 stars out of 4)

(2 stars out of 4)

The sequel — based on two comic books by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., “Kick-Ass 2” and “Hit-Girl” -– simply dusts off elements of the first outing as if the first film’s fans will be grateful just for more contact with the same characters.  And perhaps they will.  But there’s precious little if anything on display in the way of creative originality.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz return in the sequel as Dave Lizewski/ the title character and Mindy Macready/ Hit-Girl.

Their heroics as vigilantes in spandex costumes who chase evildoers has inspired a wave of costumed vigilantes throughout the city.  So Kick-Ass joins the ranks of Justice Forever, urban watchdogs patrolling the streets led by Colonel Stars and Stripes, a former thug played by Jim Carrey, who asks Kick-Ass to join them.

Then Chris D’Amico, a self-made superhero known as Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, turns himself into a powerful supervillain sporting a moniker that can’t be repeated here and a loyal group of henchmen.

Intent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl, he targets members of Justice Forever.

Mindy, in high school and trying to live a normal life, is otherwise distracted.  But she realizes that she must come out of retirement to help Kick-Ass and his crimefighting friends.

Like its predecessor, this politically incorrect, R-rated fantasy is exuberantly and unapologetically violent and foulmouthed. Likewise, it is sometimes exciting and off-putting at the same time.

But we’re not kept alertly off-balance as we were in the first installment.  And the fresh familiarity we enjoyed the first time around has largely disappeared.

Whereas the first film avoided shock for shock’s sake, the sequel seems to feature it.  The violence and sex are self-consciously paraded.

You may remember that Jim Carrey, who seems to be hiding in plain sight throughout, more or less disavowed the film following the massacre at Sandy Hook in December.  It’s easy to see why.  The ultra-violence seems miscalculated, and the film too often slips into the very conventions that the first film made fun of.

Director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down, Cry Wolf), who also wrote the script -– with the director of the first film, Jeff Vaughn, serving as a co-producer -– fails to integrate the comedy and action in a complementary way.  Consequently, the shifts in tone are abrupt and jarring: the comedic flow is interrupted by extended martial arts sequences, and they are in turn undercut by the jokes.

Perhaps the most problematic failing is that real life is never established as a standard we can measure the characters’ behavior against.  Not once but twice a character says, “This isn’t a comic book.” And each time we think, “Oh, yes it is.”

So we’ll don a costume of 2 stars out of 4 for this dark, do-it-yourself-superhero romp.  Kick-Ass 2 is too often something that Kick-Ass never was: half-assed.

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