I have spent the past several years crowing about how the action genre is dead and has been taken over by sci-fi and comic book adaptations. The days of the “body count movie” were thought to be over (mainly due to increasing similarities between reality and fiction), but along comes Shoot ‘Em Up to revitalize that sector of the action genre. A guilty pleasure in every sense of the phrase, the film is literally an eighty minute gun fight punctuated by some nonsense regarding politicians and gun control. At least Writer/Director Michael Davis knows his irony.
The setup couldn’t be simpler. As the film opens, Mr. Smith (Owen) is waiting at the bus stop. A pregnant woman (Pringle) on the verge of birth stumbles by him, and a man with a gun is closing in. Smith follows the two into an abandoned warehouse, where the armed man is ready to dispatch the woman. Smith intervenes, blowing away the man and several other henchmen whilst delivering the baby. The mother doesn’t survive the escape, and now Smith finds himself in charge of the child while literally hundreds of goons, led by Hertz (Giamatti), follow his every move and attack at will. With the help of a prostitute named DQ (Bellucci), Smith intends to find out who’s after him and why.
Shoot ‘Em Up does a marvelous job of not taking itself seriously for an instant, and that’s where the majority of the joy in watching it stems from. The action is among the most absurd ever filmed, particularly in a sequence in which Hertz’s clowns attempt to shoot Smith after he has jumped from a plane. It’s a kinetic experience and one that both spoofs and also respects over-the-top action films. It is established from the outset that Smith is to Bugs Bunny as Hertz is to Elmer Fudd, and that’s the frame of mind to be in as the ridiculousness unfolds.
Spoofs never work without solid performances, and Owen and Giamatti are up to the challenge. Here’s Owen’s character in a nutshell: after shooting a man with a gun that required the gun’s owner’s thumb print to operate (he shot the gun using the owner’s severed hand), Smith quips, “talk about a hand job.” If you laughed at that, by all means purchase your ticket. Owen delivers a smirk with nearly every line of dialogue, which mostly contains one-liners and crazy details about the plot. Giamatti, who has traditionally been low-key in previous roles, lets loose here as the wild-eyed villain, Hertz. His complete disregard for human life is a genre trait, and he gains plenty of laughs as he reacts to his hundreds of gun-toting baddies being mowed down.
Topically Shoot ‘Em Up is certainly amoral and may offend those who take the material too literally, but for the rest of us this is a return to the joyously loony films of decades past. Davis keeps things moving at a breakneck pace and shows plenty of creative flare and energy in his set pieces. Simultaneously a spoof, throwback, and tribute to the ballets of violence that precede it, Shoot ‘Em Up is the guilty pleasure of the year.
Studio: New Line Cinema
Length: 80 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive strong bloody violence, sexuality and some language.
Theatrical Release: September 7, 2007
Directed by: Michael Davis
Written by: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon