Shoot ‘Em Up
by Del Harvey
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Let’s get serious here for a moment. Shoot ‘Em Up is all about the fun. Tongue-in-cheek, supremely way over the top, be forewarned; this is not a film that takes itself seriously. Which is what makes watching experienced actors like Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, and Monica Bellucci that much more fun. Or, maybe it’s the fact that they accepted a film like this in the first place.
We first see Owen, known in the film simply as Mr. Smith, minding his own business while munching a carrot at a bus stop. Right before his eyes he witnesses a very obviously pregnant woman pursued by a pack of homicidal gunmen. His sense of honor jerked, he launches himself at her pursuers, armed only with the aforementioned carrot which, in Mr. Smith’s hands, becomes a lethal weapon.
Which is where the inevitable comparisons to a Warner Bros. Cartoon come in. Like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Owen and Giamatti toss witty repartee, the odd body, and lots of lead across the screen from opening scene to closing reel. And anyone who loves a good cartoon or a John Woo action film won’t care a fig; because Shoot ‘Em Up is an action lover’s dream come true. You want character development, deeper meaning in your plot, or a reason for any of this to be happening, you’ve come to the wrong film. In his own way, writer/director Michael Davis is simultaneously paying homage to a score of action directors (Woo, Sergio Leone, Roberto Rodriguez) while also taking jabs at the serious conventions of the genre. And we love it because we get the joke; he wrote and directed this film with us in mind. And the surprising part is just how refreshing it is to watch these caricatures act out this uber-violent pistol opera with sarcastic one-liners and memorable sight gags.
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can have the inevitable effect of wearing thin, and this sad situation does come to pass. But Davis yanks us back into the action shortly before the end of the film and redeems himself from burdening the viewer with a boring ending.
Along the way we are fed a veritable smorgasbord of ever-more outrageous action sequences, including the delivering of a baby whose umbilical cord is severed with a bullet (Mom doesn’t make it), or a shootout during a particularly heady sex scene, or even one in full free fall, sans parachutes.
The eternally sensual Ms. Belluci appears as a beautiful and maternal prostitute named DQ who is enlisted to care for the child while Smith attempts to keep them both safe while trying to figure out why Giamatti, as head hitman Mr. Hertz, is so willfully determined to kill the newborn. The surprising response involves a deceitful presidential candidate and gun control; which, when you stop to think about it, could not be more ironic.
In the end, there isn’t much depth to Shoot ‘Em Up, but there isn’t supposed to be. It’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, or Sin City, or Hard-Boiled, updated and delivered on a very delightful silver platter, thanks to its top-notch stars and a pretty honest sense of humor about itself.
Del Harvey is a writer and founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago, where he teaches and makes film.
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