Shoot ‘Em Up
2007Director: Michael Davis
Cast: Monica Belucci, Paul Giamatti, Clive Owen
ithin the first seven minutes of Shoot ‘Em Up, Clive Owen kills a man with a carrot, delivers a baby while dodging bullets, severs the umbilical cord by shooting it, rips open a woman’s shirt, and caps it all off with a one-liner so devoid of wit that it’s nothing short of impressive: “Fuck you, ya fucking fuckers.” By the end of the movie, Owen might as well have been addressing the audience members who just dropped hard-earned cash on one of the most deplorably soulless movies of the decade.
Earlier this year, Hot Fuzz both satirized and celebrated the hilariously cheesy culture of self-important 90s action movies. Now Shoot ‘Em Up attempts something similar by taking aim at a more recent crop of action excess wherein the bounds of violence, sex, obscenity, and tastelessness are pushed beyond the limits of enjoyable cinema and into the realm of cinematic atrocity. The good news is that, in terms of outrageous action sequences, Shoot ‘Em Up delivers the goods with more skill, craft, and excitement than the Transporter movies or Crank could even dream of. The bad news is that, with the exception of a couple Robert Rodriguez movies, there’s little to celebrate about these big dumb adrenaline-fueled extravaganzas in the first place. As one potentially clever set-piece after another is wasted on appallingly debased characters doing appallingly debased deeds, Shoot ‘Em Up only serves to reinforce the reactionary viewpoint of many action patrons that “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
Owen plays Mr. Smith, an impossibly good marksmen who unwittingly gets caught up in a hare-brained Senatorial conspiracy to harvest babies for their bone marrow (wtf?!). Smith and his lactating prostitute friend, Donna (Monica Belucci), are charged with protecting one such newborn from a creepy criminal mastermind named Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Between showing signs of latent necrophilia and planning his eight-year old son’s birthday party, Hertz lets the audience know how superbly brilliant he is by predicting Smith’s every move and doling out priceless chunks of wisdom like “Guns don’t kill people, but they sure do help!” Other nasty bits of brutality inflicted on the audience include a scene where Smith teaches the baby boy how to shoot a gun (“Your trigger finger is the only safety you really need!”) and an episode where Donna, for no good reason, rips a piercing out of a club-owner’s penis. This is the kind of stuff we have to put up with between well-staged action sequences, and in the end it’s hardly worth suffering through.
And yet, as much as I deride these sordid happenings and characters, they wouldn’t seem all that out of place in an installment of Sin City, another Clive Owen action romp whose debaucheries I staunchly defend. The distinction between Shoot ‘Em Up and Sin City, however (other than the latter’s distinctive visual flair), is a tonal consistency that the former lacks. In Sin City, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller establish well-developed characters who are unaware of how ridiculous their ultra-violence may seem to an outside viewer. The filmmakers’ unheeding devotion to the amoral logic of their characters’ world makes for a convincing and riveting film despite all the ugliness it conjures.
Meanwhile, the characters in Shoot ‘Em Up spend as much time talking about other action movies as they do busting heads, ripping the viewer out of whatever grungy tone the film may occasionally stumble upon. I cringed when Mr. Smith smugly told Donna, “I hate how in all these action movies, the hero calls just one reporter to break the case, and then that reporter ends up betraying him. So I went ahead and called all the major networks.” The only two objectives of this line are a) to justify the filmmakers’ false sense of pride (“My dumb action movie is more rooted in reality than yours”) and b( to show that the characters basically know that they’re in an action movie, as if that self-awareness absolves them of their sins. The ironically bad one-liners are equally off-putting, as each one is delivered with its own set of invisible air-quotes. Michael Davis’ vainglorious script further proves that the Age of Irony’s most unfortunate legacy is that it tends to provide a crutch for bad filmmakers.
Even if you enjoy inanely preposterous action movies that go way too far, I can’t really recommend Shoot ‘Em Up. It lacks the old school attitude of the Die Hard series and the richness of a Tarantino or Rodriguez film. Hell, even Crank had a method to its madness, whereas Shoot ‘Em Up’s action stems from the bloated conceits of lazy filmmakers who try to hide their pretensions by going over-the-top (and then deny that their film is just as shallow as the genre’s very worst offerings). Yes, it’s fun to watch Clive Owen slide down a banister, fly belly-down across a table, and crash through a window while killing scores of evil hoodlums. But after the initial rush of the film’s introduction subsides, you’ll wish you’d stayed at home and watched a much different movie starring Clive Owen as the protector of a newborn baby.
Shoot ‘Em Up is currently in wide release.
By: David Holmes
Published on: 2007-09-20