- Michael Davis
- Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk
- 89 min.
- Release Date
If somehow the Looney Tunes universe came to life, half-existing in cartoon reality and half in our own, Shoot ‘Em Up might sufficiently depict the result. Absurd stunts and reality-bending apply; talking animals do not. The ability to resist pain and physical harm is a must; receiving merely a gunpowder-covered face post head-shot probably wouldn’t happen. And if Chuck Jones was directing R-rated live-action features, he might have directed Shoot ‘Em Up or something like it. Certainly Jones would have cast a Bugs Bunny-type hero, like our unstoppable Mr. Smith played by Clive Owen, and an Elmer Fudd-type villain, such as Paul Giamatti’s Hertz. Instead of anvil gags and Acme Rocket Launchers, there’re carrots used like knives and parachute gun-fighting.
We begin with Mr. Smith (Guntotingus Totalus) sitting on a city bench in a scummy part of town, munching on a carrot. A pregnant woman stumbles by with random goons chasing her into a warehouse. Mr. Smith gives a kind of “here we go again” look and follows the goons. Bullets fly within ten seconds passing. Mr. Smith somehow manages to blow away twenty armed thugs lead by Hertz (Badguyicus Withcomboverus), who’s smart enough to stay back and watch as this mysterious bum mows down his men. By the time Mr. Smith is delivering the woman’s baby and shooting off the umbilical cord, we finally see the opening titles, and throw out all logic or motivation and have all but forgotten to ask ourselves who these people are and why they’re shooting at eat other.
But then again, all we really knew about Bugs Bunny was that he lived in a hole and liked carrots. That’s all we need to know about Mr. Smith too. It was enough that Elmer Fudd wanted wabbit soup and Bugs preferred to avoid becoming said soup’s main ingredient. Who needs an explanation for entertaining violence? Owen plays his character with deadpan one-liners and bravura action moves, as confidently superior as Bugs no matter the situation. I remember Bugs used to reach into his nonexistent pocket for more carrots; Smith does the same from his coat pocket, only Mr. Smith seems to have an unending supply of carrots—one for every occasion, even a poke in the eye. Sadly, despite his similarities to my favorite Looney Tune, Mr. Smith doesn’t go the full Bugs route and dress up in drag to seduce Hertz. All throughout, Mr. Smith takes down those attempting to kill the baby, whose mother is now dead. He goes to a prostitute named Donna (Monica Bellucci), playing the ludicrous hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché that never quite works; at one point she engages in “oral activities” in an alley to buy the baby a bullet-proof vest. What a display of motherly instinct! Bellucci has played a prostitute or the equivalent thereof in a number of pictures, and the routine is getting stale.
Clive Owen must love surrounding himself in prostitutes and babies. In Sin City he played Dwight, male friend to a band of savage prostitutes; last year, he single-handedly delivered and saved a baby from a gun battle in Children of Men. His Mr. Smith role does nothing for the actor besides prove that Owen is a badass, which most of us already knew. But, it’s good to know that if a baby needs saving, Owen could probably save it. And if a prostitute need… well, nevermind. The infant, by the way, is mostly comprised of computer animation and lifelike dolls. Infinite gunfire and Mr. Smith’s insane stunts (all achieved with the baby in-arms) would have deafened and then killed this supposed newborn. But, the filmmakers probably had no choice; I can’t imagine there are “stunt babies” in Hollywood (though one never knows). Perhaps the CGI-conceived baby represents a reminder that Shoot ‘Em Up is intentionally a cartoon—with real-life actors, sure, but a cartoon nonetheless.
And then there’s the humor, a pale stand-up routine by Mr. Smith on what annoys him about society. “You know what I hate…” he says, as he watches a car swerve in and out of lanes without using a turn signal. And for every setup, there’s usually a physical response, such as Mr. Smith sending the unsafe driver crashing into a parked car. Guns do most of the talking, though there are a number of poorly-attempted comedic one-liners, usually metaphors for sex or sex organs. In one scene, Mr. Smith uses another man’s severed hand to operate a gun, quipping “Nothing like a good hand job.” And you know that with all the carrot-crunching, there’s at least one “What’s up Doc?” The action works like a Looney Tune as well, offering feats we know are impossible but cannot resist being shocked by or laughing with. You must realize director Michael Davis wants us to laugh and cheer and wonder why, when someone falls from an airplane, he hasn’t landed in accordion form, bobbing up and down to broken notes. I half expected such gags, except the humor doesn’t come from a movie that wholly commits to its spoofy nature. Shoot ‘Em Up, unfortunately, doesn’t embrace its own concept and instead relies on a silly story to keep it going.
It would have been refreshing too see an action movie rely solely on action, avoiding any semblance of a plot. Davis insists on forcing some political conspiracy down our throats, if only to give Mr. Smith some new people to kill. This is the “McGuffin” existing in full inconsequentiality, completely pointless to the action, but necessary if we’re to pretend there’s a story. And there is a story here, but barely one, especially when we learn who Mr. Smith is and why he’s so glum. I wonder why Davis would bother with a plot when during the entire movie he suggests that Shoot ‘Em Up should be about nothing more than bullets and babes and babies. I was disappointed that Davis didn’t stick—ahem—to his guns; if he had devoted himself to his concept, we might actually be able to disconnect our brains and enjoy. As is, I questioned repeatedly who was doing what and why. My question is: If plot details are unimportant, since there’s some perfectly entertaining chaos to distract us anyway, why even bother?