Shoot ‘Em Up

Thursday, June 25, 2009
By Phil Elmore

To say that Shoot ‘Em Up is a stupid movie is an extraordinary understatement.  This is a stupid movie that tries and fails to be a stupid movie, achieving a transcendant level of stupidity that comes only from the failure to be edgy and self-aware.  What I mean is that the filmmakers obviously thought they were being clever by making their movie so stupid, but they weren’t nearly as clever as they thought they were.  The result is a steaming pile of Clive Owen FAIL that is redeemed only fractionally by the presence of the supporting cast.

Now, I like Clive Owen.  He was great in Sin City.  I find him very believable as a tough guy, and as Shoot ‘Em Up‘s Mister Smith, he’s very credible as a gunman with almost superhuman skills.  This is not, however, enoug h to save this absurd movie, which is so absurd that it passes odd-for-the-sake-of-odd, blows the doors off cult-movie-charming, laps so-dumb-it’s-funny, dodges past self-parody, and loops back around to so-ridiculous-it’s-actually-mildly-irritating.  When I was done watching the movie, I was left with a smile on my face, but that smile was made of equal parts amusement and chagrin.  I was glad to have watched the movie, but sad that the movie was such an utter waste of time.

My friend Dave, from whom I borrowed the DVD, described Shoot ‘Em Up as a single, long action sequence, and he’s more right than wrong.  There is almost no character development.  What little backstory we do get about the characters is imparted in passing, usually while the characters are trading bullets with each other.  Monica Bellucci is captivating and exotic as always, a hapless, kinky, but well-meaning-yet-tragic-yet-well-meaning hooker who is apparently in love with Mister Smith, or something, though she doesn’t seem to like him very much.  She seems to function mainly as a foil for Clive Owen, somebody for him to talk to while he’s complaining about various things (and then killing or maiming them).  “You know what I hate?” he asks repeatedly, and then usually explains while he’s doing something violent to the object of his ire.

The movie begins with a Clive Owen sitting on a bench waiting for a bus.  Gunfire erupts, and suddenly “Mister Smith” is fighting to save the life of a pregnant woman.  He delivers her baby, whom he later names Oliver, while engaged in a running gun battle.  The woman is killed and Mister Smith is left to care for the child.

Unaccustomed to parenthood, he uses one of his own socks to keep Oliver’s head warm, and spends a little time carrying the baby in a shopping bag. ( Eventually, Oliver upgrades to a backpack and gets his very own My First Flak Jacket, since he spends so much time being shot at or around.)  When Smith tries to abandon the baby in a park where he finds other parents, the Bad Guys try to assassinate the child yet again.  Our hero and his charge are once more on the run.

Paul Giamatti plays the leader of the Bad Guys.  He spends a lot of time on the phone with his wife.  Ha ha, get it?  He’s a bad guy but he’s also a family man trying to conclude his murderous business so he can get home for his kid’s birthday party.  Ha ha, ha ha, that’s funny and ironic, or something.

In all reality, Giamatti is the bright spot in this movie, chewing up the scenery with an overacted zeal that rivals Gary Oldman in The Professional (a performance described by one reviewer as “James Woods with rabies”).  He’s the only mildly interesting character.  I liked Oliver, who was cute, and was a bit alarmed at how casually Oliver was thrown about by Clive Owen in some of the action sequences — until it turns out that, ha ha ha, Owen as Mister Smith has subsituted an animatronic baby, and the real baby is safe with Monica Bellucci’s prostitute character.

Wait, what?  Are we passing out animatronic babies?  Where did he get that thing?  Did I miss that?  Or did he get it from wherever he’s getting the endless supply of carrots he keeps chewing on — carrots that he uses more than once to murder people?

Seriously, these are the most lethal vegetables ever to appear on camera.  He stabs one through a guy’s eye and another through a guy’s mouth and out the back of his head.  Later he uses a carrot to trigger a gun.  The parallel to Bugs Bunny is obvious, as it’s mentioned in the film; Owen’s “Mister Smith” is pursued by an army of shooters but manages to evade and defeat them all (often through comically and logistically unlikely means).

Heightening the absurdity is the presence of a bizarrely hypocritical gun control message, an attack on the Second Amendment and America’s gun culture that would be offensive if it weren’t so incredible.  There are more gunshots and dead men per square meter in this film than there would be if Punisher: War Zone and Rambo had an illegitimate child together, and we’re expected to take this seriously?  It’s a function of just how bad this movie really is that you’re not sure if this is satire, parody, a parody of satire, or an earnest (if more than ungainly) soapbox declaration.

Shoot ‘Em Up is worth seeing as spectacle and, as I said, the baby is cute.  Other than this, be aware that, apart from making you hungry for carrots, this movie will do absolutely nothing for you except take more than an hour of your life.  Those are minutes you’re never going to get back.  You also will (spoiler warning) never find out just what it is that Mister Smith hates, at the very end of the flim, because he never finishes telling you before the credits roll.

You know what I hate?

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One Response to “Shoot ‘Em Up”

  1. […] face value any sentiment expressed in it. In this it is similar to the Clive Owen actioner “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a movie so preposterous, so gratuitously violent, that it is impossible for a conservative […]