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Movie Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

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The new film Shoot 'Em Up has all the hallmarks we have come to expect from a Merchant Ivory production: exquisite locations, tasteful design, intelligent people having deep conversations in quiet rooms and always, always, a tuxedo-clad servant with sherry at the ready. Clive Owen plays a repressed actuary and Monica Bellucci a blind nun who must deliver an infant to a Venetian boarding school/orphanagerie run by Paul Giamatti, all of whom learn many quiet, profound lessons along the way.

Of course if I had any sense I would just stop there since the truth is Shoot 'Em Up (interestingly not a Merchant Ivory production) is the sort of film that completely defies review. It's like trying to review a Ho-Ho. Are you going to complain that the cake was a little dry and the "chalklate™" coating was a bit plasticine for your taste? You just paid money to eat a Ho-Ho, fer crissake. When Clive Owen, aka Mr. Smith, begins killing people with vegetables approximately forty-nine seconds into the film, you make a choice. You either say, "You totally can't do that with a carrot!" in which case, really, just leave, or else you say, "Oh, it's like that then," and enjoy yourself.

There is so little plot I hesitate to describe it for fear of spoiling what little mystery there is, but I will do my best. Clive Owen, a mysterious man with an affinity for guns, kind of like MacGyver if MacGyver spent less time at the Boys and Girls Club and more time drinking, finds himself in possession of a newborn baby after the mother inconveniently delivers said baby in the midst of a gun battle. Mr. Smith does the only logical thing, which is to search out a prostitute of his acquaintance, for specific reasons I will allow the movie to reveal, but mostly because it is a universally acknowledged film truth that prostitutes make the best caretakers for lost children.

As said prostitute, Monica Bellucci is beautiful and womanly and fabulous and unintelligible as always, to the point that it took me a while to realize that at least some of the time I couldn't understand her, it was because she was speaking something I decided was Portuguese, but maybe that's because I just discovered this awesome new wine from Portugal and am therefore prone to romanticizing. Needless to say there are people, bad people, who would like that baby dead for, it is safe to say, quite nefarious reasons (are there any non-nefarious reasons to want to kill an infant?) and thus would like Owen and Ms. Bellucci dead too.

While Shoot 'Em Up was still in production, my brother spoke with an acquaintance of his who was working on the special effects for the movie. When he told my brother what he was working on, Dave asked if that was the working title for the movie. No, he was told, that's the title. Almost refreshingly, there is absolutely nothing ironic about the title Shoot 'Em Up. This is a movie about people shooting at each other. There are no chase scenes involving French dudes running up the sides of walls. Clive Owen does not eliminate battalions of evil minions using capybara, the exclusive South American martial art of the guinea pig shaman. He shoots people. He shoots them in a stairwell. He shoots them in the bathroom. He shoots them while he eats. He shoots them while he and Monica Bellucci have sex, in a scene I hope was as fun to make as it was to watch. Occasionally when his gun jams or he runs out of ammo, he does kill people with carrots (organic and grown in his own garden!), but guns are clearly his preferred method of communication.

If there's a problem with Shoot 'Em Up, and I'm not saying there is (see earlier reference to Ho-Ho), it's that the film doesn't really know what it is. The movie is filled with the kind of groaners your Great Uncle Morty enjoyed after spending an afternoon playing "pull my finger," but it never levitates to full-blown, laugh out loud comedy, or even the kind of sporadic hysteria that marks Tarantino films. Shoot 'Em Up certainly lacks the wit and joie de vivre that made Hot Fuzz such a tremendous homage to buddy cop movies.

The film repeatedly makes reference to the US affection (or is it affectation?) for guns, suggesting that it's trying to be some kind of social commentary on a country gone mad. "How do you like your Second Amendment NOW?" demands Mr. Smith of an immobilized guard after using his MacGyver skills to rig up a contraption to shoot many, many, many people at once. For a rip roaring action flick, it's kind of a deflating question, like asking the person you've just convinced to eat that Ho-Ho how they're enjoying what the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is doing to their arteries. The guard responds with what seems to me the only reasonable response to that sort of question, "F*ck you!" but I'm not convinced the filmmakers intended for the guard to be the sympathetic character in that scene.

Despite the odd pretension to be a thought piece on gun violence, thankfully in the end, Shoot 'Em Up is piffle. It's entertaining piffle for certain, but it indubitably works best when it is running its guns, not its mouth. Should you find yourself in need of killing a few hours some afternoon and would like something fast, loud, and instantly forgettable then Shoot 'Em Up is the movie for you.

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    Dude, a capybara is sort of a huge rat … i think you mean capoeira :))