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Movie Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

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Last year Clive Owen starred in a film which which involved gunfights and chases, delivering a baby, and protecting the child from evil. This year Clive Owen stars in a film that involves gunfights and chases, delivering a baby, and protecting the child from evil. The funny thing is, despite all of the similarities, neither film has anything to do with the other. One of them is (in my opinion) one of the best films of the decade, and the other is probably the guiltiest pleasure to arrive on the big screen all year. In case you were wondering, one of the movies is called Shoot 'Em Up. Oh, you wanted to know the other? That would be the brilliant Children of Men.

Shoot 'Em Up is an action film that is so over-the-top that you can no longer see the top, much less make out whatever it is you are going over. The opening sequence, which introduces us to our reluctant hero, wipes any thought of a serious movie from your mind. As if a movie called Shoot 'Em Up had any chance of being a serious film. Gunfights, births, and carrots all play pivotal roles in these opening moments; yes, I said carrots. The orange vegetable comes into play often as a character tic and an implement of death.

The plot is simple. A pregnant woman is pursued by those intent on killing her. Her escape route takes her past the disheveled Clive Owen, known only as Mr. Smith. When he sees a gun drawn by her pursuer, he decides he must get involved. The gunfight leads to the birth of the child and the death of the woman. Mr. Smith escapes with child in hand with the intentions of leaving the baby somewhere safe. Of course, a safe place is never found as the evil assassin Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) is always close behind.

To aid him in the care of the baby, Mr. Smith enlists lactating prostitute Donna (Monica Bellucci). At first, she is a bit reluctant to offer her help. A conversation with Mr. Hertz is more than enough to entice her to team up with our stoic hero. Together, two stars and a baby are chased by Hertz and his unending supply of faceless men, as well as a horde of government issue hit squads. The chases are broken up by a series of increasingly ludicrous gun battles.

Shoot 'Em Up is like an old Warner Brothers cartoon, with Owen playing the role of Bugs Bunny (complete with ever-present carrot), and Giamatti playing Hertz as a mash-up between Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. Each gunfight escalates the carnage and violence, much like in those old cartoons. When Bugs was being hunted and the first plan didn't work, each successive plan would get increasingly zany. At one point Owen even says "What's up, Doc?" after taking a nice and crunchy bite of a carrot, as if to drive home the point of this being a hyperactive cartoon.

Writer/director Michael Davis makes the jump from direct-to-video horror features to the big screen in outlandish fashion. Each gunfight is more inventive then the last. Davis employs only one speed throughout the brief 85 minute run — full. There are barely any moments to catch your breath. These slowed down moments are only used to propel the thin story forward. When it comes right down to it, this movie has no interest whatsoever with story. It is about body count and outlandishness. The script is peppered with one-liners, and little character development.

Bottom line. As shallow as the script is, as thin as the story is, it all works. The energy that Davis injects, the cool factor of Owen's performance, and Giamatti's scene-chewing all add up to one absolute blast of a movie. It is pure satire, taking aim at action movie conventions, and even tossing in some anti-gun messages to boot. However you look at it, this is a nonsensical film that is held together by the charismatic performances and the over-the-top action.

Highly Recommended.

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