By Karen Valby
Updated March 13, 2010 at 03:35 PM EST

The line of movie geeks eager to celebrate Friday’s opening night of Austin’s SXSW film festival coiled around the grand Paramount theater. The draw was the world premiere of Kick-Ass (in theaters April 16), Matthew Vaughn’s cheeky take on the superhero movie genre. Based on Mark Millar’s popular comic book series, the film follows a forgettable high school student (played by the endearing relative newcomer Aaron Johnson) who, with the help of a mail-order costume, attempts to transform himself into a real-life superhero. The very sight of Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s name in the opening credits was enough to elicit calls of “McLovin’!” from the audience. But he in fact sheds some of that exaggerated doofus-cool here, playing an interesting, isolated son of a villainous mobster.

Without knowledge of the comic book, you might think going in that you’re sitting down to a genial movie about high school boys. But the very best of the film belongs to Nicolas Cage, a heroic vigilante out to bring down a mobster, and his highly trained, knife-wielding, wig-wearing 11-year-old daughter. The audience hooted and hollered during all of the kinetic fight scenes with Hit-Girl (played by the thoroughly convincing Chloe Moretz), but the biggest laughs were earned by Cage. His performance is so fun, ridiculous without being hammy, wistful without a touch of melodrama, that it manages to wipe clean the past few years of goofball work. The Austin audience loved Kick-Ass. I was reminded that I f***ing love Nicolas Cage.

Afterward, a few, short blocks away, hometown hero Robert Rodriguez presented a couple of choice scenes from Fox’s highly-anticipated Predators (July 9). In a loose talk geared joyfully toward Predatorfanatics, Rodriguez revealed that he wrote an early version of the script 15 years ago. Originally he had Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as Dutch, with a juicy villain’s role for Jean Claude Van Damme. The years passed, and subpar Predator sequels disappointed. When Fox brushed the dust off Rodriguez’s script in its vault, the studio asked him once again to revive the franchise. Rodriguez stepped in as a hands-on producer, brought Predators home to his Austin-based Troublemaker studios, and tapped Nimrod Antal (Vacancy) to direct.

The two men reiterated over and over again that their film sought to recapture some of the horror and neck-prickling tension that was sorely missing from the sequels. They acknowledged some rustling in the blogosphere at the announcement that Adrien Brody would star in the film, but they promised that his acting chops elevate the movie at every turn. If Predators is a hit, future sequels are a possibility. For a sneak peek at the trailer, which looks genuinely scary and entertaining, head to the official Predators website.

What say you, PopWatchers? Does the Kick-Ass trailer please? Do you have a Predator action figure on your office shelf? Is this a franchise you’re glad to see live on?