Movie Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

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By: Kimberly Davis

Grade: B+

The body count gets very high very quickly (and keeps climbing) in Shoot ‘Em Up, and that’s just fine. From the first scene to the last, this ridiculously over-the-top, campy send-up of an action/adventure movie is a fun and frothy ride.

Clive Owen (Children of Men) is pitch-perfect in the role of Smith, a gun-toting, reluctant hero whose past is shrouded in secrecy. As the movie opens on Smith’s grizzled face and bored, disaffected eyes, and then widens to reveal him sitting at a bus stop, eating a glaringly orange carrot (a much-used prop, you’ll soon find out), you just know that this is going to be a good time.

In writer/director Michael Davis’ first big Hollywood project, Smith begrudgingly comes to the aid of a pregnant woman being chased by armed goons who want to kill her baby. Smith delivers the child and coolly cuts the umbilical cord with the pull of a trigger — all in the midst of an intense shootout so ludicrous that you can’t help but laugh. Here’s the action hero of action heroes, the guy who never misses, never lets ‘em see him sweat and manages to deliver the pithy one-liners (“I’m a British nanny, and I’m dangerous.”) that will inevitably become part of film lore.

The mother’s death, from a bullet to the head, thrusts Smith into the role of “manny”; he has to keep the baby alive. It’s Three Men and a Baby, only with one man, much more testosterone and a gazillion guns and bullets. Along the way, he picks up Donna Quintana, a lactating wet nurse played by Monica Belluci (Irréversible). This is one of the film’s sour notes. Belluci is the most beautiful thing in the movie. Too bad she’s a hooker who uses her motherly instincts (think The Grapes of Wrath meets Debbie Does Dallas) for the kinky delights of the brothel patrons. Gross.

Who are the goons and why do they want the baby dead? Well, that’s what passes for plot in Davis’ noir-y film. And that’s OK, too. You’re not supposed to think too deeply or care too much.

You are supposed to be disgusted and delighted by Paul Giamatti’s sadistic and twisted turn as Hertz, the bad-guy, baby-killer boss. His task is to inadvertently help Smith fill body bags by bringing in more and more bad guys to take him down. They fail, to miserable, deadly and hilarious effect. “Do we really suck or is this guy that good?” Hertz says following a particularly inventive video game-ish stairwell shootout, where our hero picks off the bad guys like ducks in a carnival game. Smith is just that good.

While the performances are pretty much just right (Giamatti’s Hertz is, at times, a tad too creepy), it’s the action sequences — fast-paced, original and utterly devoid of plausibility — that hold this movie together. One sequence in particular, a hot-and-heavy motel room scene, proves that you should never, ever interrupt Smith while he’s making love to a beautiful woman.

Shoot ‘Em Up is purposefully, cartoonishly violent (the blood packets alone must have cost a fortune), and so outlandish that it takes you past the point of believability. That’s what makes it fun. You actually laugh when the bad guys die, and can’t wait to see how Smith will kill someone next. Shoot ‘Em Up starts and ends with guns a-blazing, and that’s just fine.

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