Shoot ‘em Up is hardly the perfect action movie. In fact, a better description for this one is “gunplay movie,” but it has its moments.
What’s up, Doc?
Cutting right to the chase, since there’s little else to talk about except the chase in this 87-minute live action version of a Looney Tunes cartoon minus the biting dialogue, this movie is mega violent. It is wall to wall, frame to frame violent.
That’s fine and dandy. It’s a piece of entertainment. No problem. And some of those scenes of random acts of violence are truly inspired; more about those later. But it’s also repetitive to the point of boring and, in a desensitized world with violence always on tap in some form, this movie in some respects is the new yawner. For a slight, short action piece, that’s not a good thing.
There’s no point in arguing about the social value of this kind of movie; it has its audience. Generally speaking, it’s the same audience that packed theaters earlier this year when 300 marched its testosterone across the screen. Those fond of Sin City will also find plenty to relish here, even without the schlock horror effects of Robert Rodriguez’s oeuvre. In fact, the character Clive Owen plays here is a veritable carbon copy of Dwight McCarthy, the shoot ‘em up character he played in that Frank Miller schlockfest.
And there’s another element of the core audience. It includes the kind of numb-to-the-world miscreants who bring their four-year-old children to free, late-evening screenings of R-rated movies and allow them to run up and down the aisles willy-nilly because they’re too young to be interested in even trying to watch the movie. In this case, that’s a mighty good thing.
But that’s neither here nor there. Basically, Shoot ‘em Up is a one-joke tirade and nothing more than an exxxtremely over the top, disposable, guilty-pleasure kind of movie.
101 Ways to Mistreat a Carrot
The plot? Come on now. The plot, such as it is, is merely a mechanism with which to stage the mayhem. It involves Smith (Owen), a dark and mysterious individual with a résumé full of questionable skills.
One dark night, Smith sits waiting for a bus, chomping on a carrot. Then along comes a terrified pregnant woman, quickly followed by a man with a gun.
Smith joins the pursuit and in the process winds up in a gunfight of epic proportions. It’ll be one of many such shootouts staged in various warehouses, parks, roads, and other locales.
Give the man credit; Smith is ambidextrous. He obliterates gaggles of henchmen with gratuitous aplomb while assisting a woman through child birth (bullet shells bouncing off her belly), while fornicating with a prostitute (in bed, on the floor, banging against the walls — in more ways than one), and while driving a BMW (without a seat belt). He also knows many, many unique uses for carrots.
Smith’s main antagonist is Hertz (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man). Hertz is not exactly the maniacally menacing man he should be, even after a moment of quasi-necrophilia. Instead of being fun to hate, he’s simply irritatingly icky. Part of the joke here is that Hertz is a family man with an eight-year-old son. His wife keeps calling at the most inopportune times, such as during the frantic action of a gunfight or the tension-filled drama of a sinister conversation. Even more improbably, right before yet another major shootout, Hertz stops to contemplate which birthday card would be best suited for his son.
Hertz wants to kill the baby Smith helped bring into this world. The baby’s part of a baby-harvesting scheme intended to supply a suitable marrow donor for a certain person of significant influence. Of course, Hertz wants to ensure that marrow donation never gets deposited.
Bullets for Babies
After its initial scenes of shock and awe, Shoot ‘em Up, for all its relative brevity, becomes about as much fun as watching somebody else play a first-person shooter video game for 90 minutes. It shuffles from one scene of robust violence to the next, with a minute or two of dialogue (typically in the name of exposition or “monologuing”) interspersed in order to provide a modicum of storytelling.
Either buy into this stuff or call it out, there’s plenty of B.S. here to either enjoy or revile, depending on your point of view.
Writer/director Michael Davis, who went in a totally different direction with the romantic comedy Eight Days a Week, utterly glorifies violence while trying to ham-fistedly implant a subplot that should engender sympathy for Smith. The disturbing, sad back story doesn’t sit well with the rest of the movie, though. It comes across as cold and cynical when the movie could use some genuine grounding.
Nonetheless, there is one humdinger of a set piece involving Smith and that BMW. He rams a van head on, goes through his own blown-out windshield, through the van’s blown-out windshield, and flies straight to the back of the van, where he turns around and decimates more henchmen.
There are also a few good sight gags that involve things such as a large, rooftop neon sign that gets blasted out to spell some not so cordial messages; the baby getting dolled up in a mini bulletproof vest; and a field strewn with the bodies of dead henchmen following an absurd skydiving gunfight.
With just a wee bit of thought, all of this could have actually led to some sort of point. Instead, Shoot ‘em Up is simply another mindless piece of entertainment about two men and their overused pistols.
For those who choose to accept this mission, leave the four-year-olds at home. Please.