Ridiculous, over-the-top, stupid and… still pretty fun.
The action movie genre is nothing if not overplayed these days. The summer movie season is filled with explosions, rapid-fire machine guns, crashes and car chases at every turn. There’s serious dramatic action, over-the-top comic action and parody action. At this point, there isn’t much we haven’t seen before.
Shoot ‘Em Up may not be a revelation of the genre, but it will certainly have you thinking, “I’ve ever seen that before” more than a few times during it’s quick-moving 93 minutes, and that in itself is an accomplishment within this overplayed genre.
Writer/director Michael Davis is the action fanboy’s ideal director because he is so clearly a fanboy himself. Even without meeting this quick-speaking, over-caffeinated, amazingly enthusiastic individual (as I have a few times now) his personality spills over into his filmmaking. You can tell watching Shoot ‘Em Up that he was just as excited to pull off this insane action as he hopes audiences will be to watch it.
Although the story isn’t terribly important, here’s the short of it. Clive Owen is Mr. Smith, a mysterious tough guy who is immediately thrust into a perilous situation at the film’s beginning when he stumbles upon an expectant mother nearing labor. He unsuccessfully attempts to rescue the mother during an intense gunfight, but does manage to deliver the newborn and head away with himself and the child still alive. The group determined to kill the mother and child is lead by their evil leader Hertz, played by Paul Giamatti, who is now determined to hunt down and kill this troublemaker. Smith heads to a fetish hooker (Monica Bellucci) for help with the baby (of course) and the two spend the rest of the movie squaring off against Hertz and his goons in a series of increasingly insane action sequences.
Shoot ‘Em Up is firmly routed in the tradition of film noir, with tough guys, deadly bombshells and Raymond Chandler-esque language. It works well within the over-the-top scenarios and ads an heir of Sin City-esque stylization that makes the silliness easier to swallow.
Whether it’s a shootout while having sex, sliding across a warehouse floor on oil, bursting through a car windshield and into a van filled with baddies or airborne gunfights, Davis consistently finds ways to wow audiences with his inventive action.
There comes a point where the super-stylized action gets a little old. Sure, it’s fun, but after an hour or so, you kind of see it coming. Sometimes it’s hard not to think, “Now come on!” But credit Davis for never giving up in his attempt to wow audiences and never succumbing to those usual tendencies to throw in a slow moment of revelation or character bonding. Even when Mr. Smith is making love, he’s killing guys at the same time.
Owen seems to be having a lot of fun with the role and he’s fun to watch. He’s sort of like the tougher, more-rough-around-the-edges, depressed version of James Bond. He’s essentially a superhero at a point, since his death-defying feats reach a point beyond any realm of reality early on in the film. But Owen still manages to deliver the cool lines and keep audiences routing for his noir-ish Mr. Smith.
Giamatti isn’t nearly as entertaining as the baddie as you’d think he might be. His main thing is snarling in anger constantly and acting like he’s cool despite the fact that he’s constantly blowing his top. Giamatti’s always an entertaining actor to watch, but here his shtick feels pretty tired by the end.
Shoot ‘Em Up is a good time at the movies, plain and simple. Though you may not remember the specifics of the story or characters five minutes after walking out of the theater, you will certainly remember that you just saw a hero cradle a bloody newborn baby while rapid-firing a pistol or kill multiple assailants mid-coitus. And heck, that’s enough for my ten bucks.