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Shoot 'Em Up

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/07/07 02:16:40

"Clive, Paul, and Monica having a grand ole' time blowing sh*te up."
3 stars (Just Average)

Derivative as all get out, but almost as much fun, "Shoot 'Em Up" is writer/director Michael Davis’ ("Monster Man," "Girl Fever," "100 Girls," "Eight Days a Week") tip of his filmmaking hat to Hong Kong action films, specifically John Woo’s ("Windtalkers," "Mission: Impossible II," "Face-Off," "Broken Arrow," "Hard Target") pre-Hollywood oeuvre ("Hard-Boiled," "The Killer," "A Better Tomorrow I and II"). That means, of course, that Davis throws story and logic out of an eightieth floor window and throws in as many shootouts as possible between the archetypical hero without a name or a past, the sadistic villain, and the villain’s short-on-brains, long-on-bleeding henchmen, with the occasional pause for black comedy and one-liners by hero and villain alike to lighten the otherwise dark mood usually associated with a high body count.

Set in an unnamed city. Shoot ‘Em Up doesn’t spare a second to introduce “Mr. Smith” (Clive Owen), a man enjoying a quiet moment on a bench when a screaming pregnant woman (Ramona Pringle) runs past him. He’s reluctant to help until a car crashes nearby and out emerges an armed man, presumably in pursuit of the pregnant woman. After hesitating for a few seconds, Smith decides to check out the situation. In short order, Smith gets drawn into a firefight with the unnamed man. Smith, of course, emerges unscathed, but the pregnant woman goes into labor. Just as the baby is born, a gangster, Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti), and his black-clad henchmen appear. Smith escapes with the baby, but the pregnant woman doesn’t survive.

Realizing that the baby needs to be fed, he appears at the door of DQ (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold and, more importantly, lactating breasts. DQ initially demurs but once Hertz appears at her brothel, she’s forced to side with Smith and go on the run. Smith really, really wants the baby or, more specifically, he wants to eliminate the baby, for reasons that become clear between extended shootouts a car chase, and a firefight aboard a plane. Hertz’s murky motives are connected to an arms manufacturer (Stephen McHattie) and a senator favored to win his party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States. It all comes back full circle, of course, with a shootout between the Smith and Hertz.

The MPAA rating for Shoot ‘Em Up tells you just about everything you can expect from its 90-minute running time. Shoot ‘Em Up is rated “R” for “pervasive strong bloody violence, sexuality and some language.” “Pervasive” and “bloody violence” are apt descriptors for an unapologetically genre film that’s bound to appeal to the inner teenager of anyone who was or still is into Hong Kong over-the-top action films or Tarantino’s 1990s output (e.g., Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs). Shoot ‘Em Up is certainly over-the-top when it comes to gravity-defying, acrobatic action scenes that involve guns being fired from every position imaginable and unimaginable. Davis, however, has little of Tarantino’s flair for dialogue, pop culture-laced or otherwise, especially when it comes to one-liners, most of which fall flat.

While "Shoot ‘Em Up" doesn’t have much character development (actually none, come to think of it), or anything resembling a coherent plot, that’s probably not much of a critique for a film that, true to its name, doesn’t aspire to be anything more than an action film with the “coolest” action scenes. Not surprisingly, Davis sold "Shoot ‘Em Up" to New Line Cinema on the strength of 17 minutes of animated footage that consisted of 17,000 line drawings. Impressive, of course, but story was obviously secondary to Davis and New Line. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Davis and New Line were able to line up Clive Owen as the laconic loner with a past that involves firearms, Paul Giamatti as the hissable villain, and Monica Bellucci as the romantic interest for Smith and eye candy for the rest of us. Davis isn’t going to convince cine-literate moviegoers to mention his name in the same breath as John Woo, except to point out how much he’s openly borrowed from Woo, but "Shoot ‘Em Up" is still tremendous fun for most of its thankfully brief running time.

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