‘Kick-Ass’: America says ‘no thanks’ to pre-teen killer flick

The keepers of American mainstream movie standards are probably breathing a sigh of relief today over this weekend’s disappointing box-office performance of “Kick-Ass.”

The film came in number one in the box-office sweepstakes, but it grossed $11 million less than the pre-weekend $30 million projected take.

Based on a popular comic book, the R-rated movie is graphically violent and profane, but it’s the spectacle of a pre-teen superhero girl killing people that pushes the movie into new territory.

Killing a child in a Hollywood film is still a taboo. Even in the most vile slasher flicks, if there’s a kid involved in the action, you can be pretty certain he or she will survive until the final reel.

Kids have been killers in the movies for some time now, but up until “Kick-Ass” the carnage has been kept off-screen.

Back in 1956, a very popular Broadway play about a child murderess, “The Bad Seed,” was made into a movie, but had to be changed significantly. On Broadway, the little girl got away with murder — and drove her mother to suicide — but in the Hollywood version the kid was struck by lightning while trying to retrieve a piece of evidence on a pier. And we never saw her kill anyone.

Two decades later, little Regan in “The Exorcist” killed a Hollywood filmmaker — while possessed by a demon — but the act was kept offscreen. A few years later, a spin-off demonic horror movie, “The Omen,” implied that the little anti-Christ boy was behind a series of very graphic killings, but again we never saw the child doing the deed.

“Kick-Ass” breaks new ground with its foul-mouthed little girl superhero who — in the final reel — kills so many people so graphically that I lost count of the number of victims.

The premise and the execution were clearly too much for “Kick-Ass” to be a blockbuster hit, but judging by the continuous laughter at the screening I attended yesterday, the movie will have a very long life as a cult picture.

To be fair, the creators of the movie (and presumably the comic book as well) make it clear the story is set in an alternate New York City — and is intended to be a very black comedy — but they have opened a door that a lot of untalented exploitation filmmakers will no doubt start walking through.

(P.S. At 2 p.m. Monday, The Hollywood Reporter sent out the following bulletin: “For the second consecutive session, Sunday boxoffice estimates failed to crown the right film as weekend boxoffice champion.

This time, it was Lionsgate’s action comedy “Kick-Ass” overtaking “How to Train Your Dragon” from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount. Final official data released by Rentrak on Monday showed that “Kick-Ass” rung up $19.8 million, compared with a $19.6 million weekend haul for “Dragon.”

That reversed the pic atop domestic rankings. On Sunday, Par had estimated “Dragon” would ring up $20 million through Sunday, while Lionsgate penciled in $19.8 million.

As things turned out, Par had been overly optimistic about the Sunday haul for “Dragon,” while Lionsgate sold “Kick-Ass” a bit short.”)

Joe Meyers