(2007) Action Comedy (New Line) Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Ramona Pringle, Julian Richards, Tony Munch, Scott McCord, Wiley M. Pickett, Stephen R. Hart, Laura de Carteret. Directed by Michael Davis.
Sometimes, a mindless action movie is just the ticket. It allows you to sink back into your sofa or lounge seat with a b bowl of popcorn in your lap and a 2-litre bottle of soda on your coffee table and just switch your brain to “off.” Shoot ‘Em Up is just the ticket for those seeking escape.
Mr. Smith (Owen) is just minding his own business, sitting at a bus stop and eating a carrot when he sees a pregnant woman (Pringle) scurrying by him, obviously in distress and pain. Moments later a sinister black car squeals around the corner and slams into a parked car. A man (Pickett) gets out, roaring threats and obscenities, and follows her down a dark alley, throwing a sneered “What are you looking at?” to the innocent bystander. Once the man cocks a gun, the innocent bystander stands with a sigh, and says “Bloody hell!” in a resigned voice. Thus he turns from innocent bystander to Good Samaritan, all in the space of a two-word phrase. That’s just good writing (not to mention good acting). In any case, he heads in, and starts killing people; Death by shooting, death by stabbing, death by carrot (more than once). Soon, there are all sorts of killers in the room, led by the over-the-top Mr. Hertz (Giamatti) who may not be Avis but is certainly trying harder to get the job done; I think we see more of Mr. Giamatti’s teeth than we do in any other single movie, as his expression is almost perpetually a rabid snarl. Smith enlists the aid of a lactating hooker (Bellucci) to help him keep the baby fed, but essentially they are in a running gun battle from here on in.
That’s essentially all the plot you need for Shoot ‘Em Up. Yeah, there’s a bit more back story with a senator running for president on a gun control platform who has a special relationship with the baby and his/her mother and a corrupt gun manufacturer, but that’s all window dressing anyway. All you need to know is that bullets fly, cars crash, buildings explode and people are chopped into Alpo in all sorts of entertaining and disgusting ways. You will see blood, baby poop and strained carrot. You’ll see a neon sign turned into a means of personal insult between Hertz and Smith. You’ll see executions, breasts, torture, people falling out of airplanes, broken bones, spurting wounds and thugs getting shot in the ass. In fact, you’ll hear a lot of expletives, a lot of them. What you won’t find here is a dull moment.
Director Davis to date had only directed a handful of movies, the best-known of which was the indie comedy Eight Days a Week, none of which would really prepare anyone for this movie. His hyperkinetic style is very reminiscent of John Woo and other Hong Kong actioners (which is fitting, since his cinematographer is the great Peter Pau, whose credits include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Bride with White Hair). Davis and Pau rarely stoop to clichés, such as the super slo-mo leap, or the bullet time dodge. Nope, things keep hopping from start to finish. There is rarely time for breath (although there is a pretty hot sex scene to break things up).
Owen, on the heels of Sin City and Children of Men has developed into quite the action star. His hangdog face belies the tough guy within, and he is certainly as tough as they come here. He’s smooth and unflappable; no wonder he was a frontrunner for the vacant James Bond part that eventually went to Daniel Craig. Giamatti plays the anti-Cleveland Heep, an assassin with no conscience, no remorse and absolutely relentless in pursuit of his target. He makes a surprisingly good villain. Those who thought that the Matrix series didn’t feature enough of Bellucci will be more than satisfied here.
Don’t go into the theater expecting much in the way of plot or character. Few of the folks appearing onscreen are actually given names, and there’s a good reason for that. The thing here, people, is the action sequences, and these are executed to perfection. Shoot ‘Em Up is just that, a poster child for truth in titling. It’s loud, unapologetically masculine and relentlessly kinetic. You may not be illuminated when you exit the theater, but I almost guarantee you’ll be entertained.
WHY RENT THIS: Non-stop hyperkinetic but perfectly executed action sequences. Lots of breasts for the guys, lots of Clive Owen for the ladies. Unexpected wit.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot? What plot? Relentlessly bloody and over-the-top. Doesn’t just push the edge, it obliterates it and then urinates on it for good measure.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of violence (if that wasn’t made clear in the review), some strong sexuality and nudity, and a profusion of profanity. Bring the kids.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The infant who played the baby was cast before he was even born; a woman who was expecting twins agreed to allow her newborns to be used in the film.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are some special effects test shots and animatics but otherwise none worth mentioning.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.8M on a $39M production budget; the movie was a flop.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio