Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Davis

Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Daniel Pilon

MPAA Rating:   (for pervasive strong bloody violence, sexuality and some language)

Running Time: 1:27

Release Date: 9/7/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The phrase "shoot 'em up" refers to a type of video game in which the player is presented with wave after wave of bad guys, holds down the fire button, and lets it rip. And that's what Shoot 'Em Up is: a guy, a wave of villains, and lots of bullets. Perhaps the phrase "run and gun" would fit better, but that's beside the point. This isn't so much a satire of the action genre as it is a progression to the next logical step. The plot is thin to bordering on nonexistent, the characters are broadly sketched, they seem to have unlimited ammo (unless it's necessary they don't), and physical laws are bent to the needs of the choreography. Yes, this is the action flick reduced to the basics, and the results unsurprisingly resemble a cartoon. The film is so over-the-top it establishes its own kind of extreme reality. One could easily try to take the moral high-ground here and condemn the film for its excessive violence, gratuitous bloodletting, mean-spirited tone, and political inconsistency, but what the hell would be the point? Shoot 'Em Up doesn't care about any of that; it is simply badass, unabashedly malicious fun.

We open with a close-up on the eyes of our antihero, the cryptic Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), pull back to reveal him biting in to a carrot, and pull back again to see him sitting at a bus stop in the bad part of town. A pregnant woman (Ramona Pringle) runs by, screaming, followed by a man (Wiley M. Pickett) who pulls a gun before approaching her in an old, abandoned warehouse (There are no other kinds in movies like this, of course). Smith steps in, dispatches the would-be killer with the only weapon he has ("Eat your vegetables"), and is soon attacked by a bunch of other baddies. A shootout ensues (Trust me, we'll talk about them soon enough) while Smith helps the woman give birth. The mother is killed in the crossfire, but Smith escapes with the baby from the thugs' leader Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti).. After a few close calls, Smith manages to get the newborn to a bordello, where he tries to convince prostitute Donna (Monica Bellucci) to take care of the infant, but soon enough, Hertz is after Smith, Donna, and baby for reasons that are eventually disclosed.

The reasons don't really matter, of course, and the semblance of a plot exists solely to string together action sequence after action sequence. I know that sounds like a broken-record observation, but in this case, it is the film's reality—its raison d'ętre. They get started right off the bat with the warehouse firefight. Smith runs and shoots and eventually crouches by the pregnant woman to help her deliver, bullet casings fallings like raindrops on her belly. We almost expect him to shoot the umbilical cord, until he actually does. Writer/director Michael Davis uses frenzied, kinetic cuts. One could complain there's no way to tell what's going, but there's really nothing to notice except that Smith shoots and bad guys fall in spurts of blood. What keeps it from becoming redundant are flashes of inspiration with the use of the environment. Smith shoots out the oil tank of a vehicle and uses the spillage to slide across the ground, a seemingly useful and believable idea except that he manages to cover an inordinate amount of ground in the process. Similarly, he takes out the legs of a table and uses the makeshift ramp to vault through a window, pausing momentarily in midair to assess the location of the villains on the other side.

It's not believable in the physical realm, but the film makes its own rules. We can only go along with them. Smith shoots a merry-go-round to keep the baby out of the way of Hertz' sniper rifle, shoots a filing cabinet to knock out a goon with the drawer, rigs an entire warehouse of guns so he can use the makeshift controls to take out the approaching assailants, shoots out the window of an oncoming van so he can fly through it, and freefalls through the sky using enemies' parachutes and a helicopter against them (The punch line to that scene is gruesomely funny). It's all set to a heavy metal soundtrack and only pauses so we can learn of a hypocritical politician (Daniel Pilon) who says he's big on gun control but is still in the pocket of Hertz' boss and gun manufacturer Hammerson (Stephen McHattie) and so we can see how big a malcontent and misanthrope Smith really is. The film doesn't even let the mandatory sex scene (which comes after Donna gets all sensual with the baby food) interrupt the action. Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti get the joke and play it out like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd (It's hard not to get the joke when there's a direct reference to it).

Shoot 'Em Up runs about eighty unwasted minutes, and it's a tight, fast-paced package full of cheesy one-liners, ridiculous stunts, and balls-to-the-wall gunplay. It's nothing new, but with the focus on the basest elements of the genre, it's easy to forget that.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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