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Ryan Reynolds was the perfect leading man in 2009’s The Proposal and he has struggled ever since to find the right type of movie to match his unique talents, which at his best call to mind the dry humor of Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy and other actors whose ironic performances never seem seedy or malicious.

Deadpool, one of the Marvel Comics-based characters and loosely tied into Fox’s X-Men series, is not that movie. But, for Reynolds, it is a start. Ryan Reynolds, as anyone who saw his spot for testicular cancer self-exams and a car commercial during Super Bowl 50 knows, is everything George Clooney was oversold as for the past 20 years: handsome, upright, comfortable in his own skin and distinctively humorous in a way that’s simultaneously barbed and bright. The makers of Deadpool, which is dark, gruesome and foul-mouthed, turn formulaic snark and bitterness inside out, wrap it around Reynolds’ irresistible screen appeal (which reminds me of James Garner) and deliver it into a thematic decency that lets the audience in on the joke.

That’s what Deadpool‘s marketing has done brilliantly for the past several months and it apparently worked. The movie opened huge at this weekend’s box office, beating both Zoolander 2 and How to Be Single and breaking records. Maybe today’s young audiences are ready for something sassy and smart if it comes in this genre. Deadpool, like Marvel’s similarly-themed Ant-Man, gets dirty and dark with cleanliness and light as the ultimate point, which is why it’s not as hard to take.

The plot is overly simple, with a young mercenary (Reynolds) meeting a lady of the evening (Morena Baccarin) and falling in love, getting funny and nasty to a montage of holiday-themed sex gags, until their bad boy and bad girl karma sneaks up and life throws a curve. Reynolds’ character ends up getting caught trying to resolve the problem in a deadly inducement of mutation by torture. A slavemaster (Ed Skrein) turns him into a would-be mutant mercenary. But the victim uses his mind to endure, resist and break free of the slavery to become the title character and strike back. All of this happens after opening credits that poke fun at Hollywood. The action is exciting, the classic soundtrack songs are perfect (especially Juice Newton’s 1980 cover of “Angel of the Morning” and “Calendar Girl”) and the computer imagery is fine.

Reynolds’ lines make the movie, though. As crude and disgusting as the material gets, with jokes about masturbation, emoji and Rosie O’Donnell displayed in that fast-talking, fragmented way today’s youths have of half-expression—i.e., “hashtag: drive-by”—Reynolds and company play bits up in order to slow down and have an impact. In mutant form, Ryan Reynolds makes his impression with snappy vocals of witty (if often vulgar) lines that underscore the contrast between the sacred and the profane.

Irreverence bridges the gap. Reynolds’s character plays with unicorns and Hello Kitty and mocks IKEA—aided by his blind roommate (Leslie Uggams in a welcome return to the screen)—and, in the end, with twists of anti-anti-heroism, he goes by his own judgment for his own sake. Deadpool may be sharp, rough and jaded, and he is, but it’s so he can cuddle, kiss and play and he does that, too. In other words, he’s made for Ryan Reynolds, who finally gets closer to making a movie his talent deserves.