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Movie Review

‘Kick-Ass 2’ has the mean spirit, but lacks the snark

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz in “Kick-Ass 2.”

Daniel Smith

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz in “Kick-Ass 2.”

“Kick-Ass 2” is a special kind of crap: the kind smart people make for audiences they think are stupid. I’m afraid this review is going to make me sound like the old man in a “Scooby-Doo” cartoon, but I can’t remember a more unpleasant time at the movies than the 103 minutes I spent watching this needless, witless sequel. It’s a mean-spirited, ultra-violent action-comedy with the emotional maturity of an arrested 12-year-old and the ethical compass of a turnip.

The original “Kick-Ass” (2010) was a nasty affair, too, but it had half a bright idea and sharp, snarky direction by Matthew Vaughn. What would happen if a high school nerd really tried to be a costumed superhero? He’d get his clock cleaned on a regular basis, with the resulting cellphone videos posted on YouTube. As Dave Lizewski, the hapless Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Taylor-Johnson gave off a kind of demented sweetness, but what really got the fanboys hot and bothered was Chloë Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl, a tweener psychopath with a fondness for the “c” word. Such daring cultural subversion.

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Jeff Wadlow takes over the direction this time, and he’s much less adept at moving the furniture around. There’s a lot of furniture: Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl may have reluctantly retired back to high school, but the streets are full of socially maladroit masked avengers with names like Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). Dave eventually joins up with the Justice Forever league, a tatty outfit run by Colonel Stars and Stripes, who likes to sic his German shepherd on evildoers’ testicles and who’s played with grim comedic purpose by Jim Carrey.

The pimply teen super-villain played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse is back, now with a moniker a family newspaper can’t print, and if anything the actor is more abrasively obnoxious than before. “Kick-Ass 2” doles out the violence with an enthusiasm that’s meant to be cheeky but just feels ugly and small. When a butch Russian baddie (Olga Kurkulina) kills a squadron of cops, the larkish inventiveness of their deaths — ooh, that one got a lawnmower to the head! — sticks in your throat. Coarseness sells, I guess, but does it have to be this smug?

The script, also by Wadlow, tries to have it both ways, with some muddled notions about identity and personas in the Internet age and bits of meta-dialogue that fall flat. “This isn’t a comic book!” characters tell each other more than once, but, trust me, it is, and a lousy one at that. Just to complete the trifecta, there’s icky slapstick and ickier sentimentality as Hit-Girl tries to mainstream into “normal” high school life, leading to a revenge scene where her cartoonish mean-girl tormentors spew vomit and diarrhea. If a scene like that is your cup of tea, maybe it’s time — in language Hit-Girl would appreciate — to grow the @#%* up.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.
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