Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass 2.

Kick-Ass 2 had barely started when I experienced a serious flashback—a flashback so vivid that it felt like I had traveled through time. (I concede that I was sort of high on Benadryl; at least it stops my nose from running.)

It was 1989, the summer before my final year of college. I was managing a crappy discount movie theater at the time, and I would go up the road to the nice theater for the big, new movies a few weeks before our cheap-ass theater got a print. I was a bright-eyed optimist sitting down for a showing of Ghostbusters 2.

A few short minutes into that sequel, I knew things had gone terribly wrong with a potentially great franchise.

I felt that same, sinking, nauseating feeling as Kick-Ass 2 began by recycling the infamous bit from the original film in which Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) tested the bulletproof vest worn by Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). This time, Hit-Girl is firing bullets at Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). We are supposed to laugh, because it’s just like the first film, right?

Wrong. The first film had a creative spark, a visual flair and an uncanny ability to walk the line between dark satire and bad taste. It managed to parody superhero movies while actually being a decent superhero movie.

Kick-Ass 2 is a shrill, abrasive, disgusting misfire from a director (Jeff Wadlow) without a clue. The script is terrible. The art direction is unimaginative and flat, and the performances run the gamut from flat and uninspired to screeching. The result is bush-league garbage.

I was tortured watching this thing. Ghostbusters blew it big time within the first 15 minutes of its sequel. Well, Kick-Ass had an even better premise, and some decent graphic novels to back it up—yet its sequel is a loser from the very beginning.

Taylor-Johnson returns as Dave, a high school student who yearns to be a superhero. He puts on a mail-order costume and becomes Kick-Ass, roaming the streets looking to stop crime. While Matthew Vaughn, the original film’s director, managed to pull something charming out of Taylor-Johnson, in this film, he’s an annoying, whiny goofball. He doesn’t have a single shining moment.

Returning as Mindy Macready (Hit-Girl), Moretz suffers simply because she grew up a bit. Having a tiny 11-year-old girl kick major ass is one thing; having a fairly substantial 15-year-old kicking the same ass doesn’t have the same comic wallop or shock value. She looks a little silly in the same getup, and her performance is surprisingly dull.

Making matters worse is a subplot in which Hit-Girl gives up vigilantism and decides to give high school an honest go. This results in a by-the-numbers scenario straight out of Heathers and Mean Girls, except this one culminates in the mean girls experiencing simultaneous vomiting and explosive diarrhea.

While Mindy goes to school, Kick-Ass looks for other superheroes, and hooks up with Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) and his gang. Carrey has but a few minutes in the film—and unlike everyone else, he seems to know what movie he is supposed to be in. He’s funny, just a little sick—and he looks great in his outfit. Yes, the movie is being faithful to the graphic novels that inspired it, but they should’ve found a way to have Carrey’s character play a bigger part. He’s the only thing worth watching, and makes up a little for the loss of Nicolas Cage.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, so good in the original, delivers one of the year’s worst performances as wannabe super-villain Chris D’Amico, bent on revenge after Kick-Ass shot his dad with a bazooka. Mintz-Plasse spends the movie screaming, decked out in bondage gear, and embarrassing himself with moments like a rape scene played for laughs. It’s sickening, really.

Carrey has disowned this film, citing its excessive violence. Hey, maybe that was part of it, but I’m thinking he saw a rough cut of Kick-Ass 2, became fully convinced the director had crapped the bed, and decided to stay home rather than put on a fake happy face for the talk-show circuit. He’s the best thing about the movie—but two or three decent scenes do not a good movie make.

It’s a shame to see Taylor-Johnson, Moretz and Mintz-Plasse straining to relive the greatness of their previous effort, in much the same way it was tough watching Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis 24 years ago. Ghostbusters, despite many rumors, never got a third movie. I’m thinking the Kick-Ass franchise will suffer that same fate.

Kick-Ass 2 is playing in theaters across the valley.