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NEW YORK (Reuters) - It had low-wattage stars, no Spiderman or Batman, and little money behind it. In short, the script had little that a major studio wants when developing a movie, yet days before its U.S. debut "Kick-Ass" now has what they all desire -- huge fan excitement.
The new film about a costumed crime fighter with no real superpowers bills itself as a cheeky blend of teen humor and stylish violence, directed by a veteran of seedy British gangster films, Matthew Vaughn.
Ahead of its U.S. debut on Friday, that combination has fueled a strong buzz among "fan boys" -- mostly young men who crave movies about comic book superheroes. The "Kick-Ass" Facebook page enjoys over 150,000 "fans" and early reviews have been favorable for the most part.
"All the studios said no to it," Vaughn told Reuters. So, the "Layer Cake" director raised the $35 million he needed from private investors and reached his target only weeks before the first signs of 2008's financial market meltdown.
"I knew the recession was pretty serious because six weeks later the 'fun, stupid' investment became the best investment they (the investors) had right then," Vaughn said.
In the movie, typical New York teen and comic book nerd Dave Lizewski (19-year-old actor Aaron Johnson), dons a wacky green costume to become the superhero-cum-vigilante "Kiss-Ass." He sets out to battle evil-doers but having no superpowers, he is savagely beaten on one of his first crime-fighting forays.
Yet, with a wink and nod to modern Internet celebrity, the amateur superhero eventually becomes a Web sensation, allowing him to meet the father-daughter crime fighting duo "Big Daddy" (Nicolas Cage) and "Hit Girl" (11 year-old Chloe Moretz). Banding forces, the trio attacks mob boss Frank D'Amico and his son Chris -- who concocts his own superhero, "Red Mist."
Johnson compares "Kick-Ass" to a teen coming-of-age comedy that morphs into a violent revenge fantasy and back again to comedy. It strives to combine the awkward, humorous moments of adolescence with stylized, over-the-top action of more traditional comic book films.
Backed by private funding, Vaughn added some star appeal by hiring comic fan Cage, and Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment signed up as a co-producer with Vaughn's Marv Films.
Mini-major studio Lions Gate, which released Oscar winner "Crash" and nominee "Precious: Based On the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," smelled a hit and acquired U.S. distribution rights for a mere $15 million. It plans to open "Kick-Ass" on 3,000 film screens in one of its widest debuts ever, according to Lions Gate motion picture group head Joe Drake.
Reviews from the April, U.K. release were mostly positive. Critics hailed the rough-and-tumble feel of the movie, but some harped about the extreme profanity and violence displayed by such young characters.
The film "uses sadism and voyeurism to entertain, with no thought of the social consequences," said Christopher Tookey in the Daily Mail.
But actress Moretz told journalists her own mother approved the script and the violence was exaggerated for effect.
"It's fake, that's a prosthetic leg, that's fake blood, it's made out of corn syrup, you could eat the blood, it's like ketchup," Moretz said, sounding less like the 13-year-old she is now and more like director Quentin Tarantino when he was promoting his "Inglourious Basterds" -- a box office hit.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte