Shoot 'Em Up (2007) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and strong language
Running time: 80 min.
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Ramona Pringle
Director: Michael Davis
Screenplay: Michael Davis
Review published September 10, 2007
It's difficult to criticize Shoot 'Em Up for being nothing more than John Woo-tinged gun porn and sensationalized violence when it never makes any claims to be anything other than what it is. My review is simple: if you love graphic, bloody, tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top action that pushes the limits of good taste, it's made for you.
In some ways, it's reminiscent to a film released less than a year ago, Crank, in that it knows no bounds when it comes to physics, and it leaves no buttons not pressed in the titillation department either. However, unlike Crank, Shoot 'Em Up doesn't have (or even need) a particular reason for its nonstop barrage of gunfire, explosions and lurid sex. The only thing Michael Davis (Monster Man, 100 Girls) seeks to do is to distract you from considering the implausibility of each successive piece of action by engaging you with another. Whether it works or not for you will most likely depend on the wide berth of disbelief suspension you're willing to bestow it for the sake of some visually clever CGI-laden fighting and the stylish attitude it exudes throughout.
The gist of the film is that a man (Owen, Children of Men) with a penchant for guns gets involved trying to save a pregnant woman from certain death at the business end up some powerful weapons toted by assassins out to make sure that she and her unborn baby don't survive another day. The man, later referred to as Smith, loses the woman shortly after assisting in childbirth, and ends up becoming a target himself because what the men really want to stop is the baby from surviving. He finds a prostitute (Bellucci, She Hate Me) named Donna Quintano (get it? Initials are "DQ", a la "Dairy Queen") known for indulging men's fantasies of infantilism, complete with lactating breasts, and wants her to feed it for a while. She refuses (I guess she's more a whore than a madonna), but she at least knows how to care for "children", so he forces her to tag along while the main baddie, Hertz (Giamatti, The Ant Bully), tenaciously comes after him with guns a-blazing.
I've often come down hard on films for offering us little story to follow, characters to care about, or plots to stimulate. I guess it should surprise no one who follows my reviews to know that that's essentially why I'm ultimately calling Shoot 'Em Up a mediocre film. Writer-director Matthew Davis knows how to do what he does well from a directorial standpoint, and he does have quite a bit of chutzpah and panache when it comes to the delivery of humor and excitement. The problem from my point of view, which is probably seen as an asset from the camp who hates having to think during an action sequence, is that there is a high overhead of tedium carried throughout the movie if you're not impressed by films that offer nothing but style and energy.
It's easy to becomes disengaged by the film intermittently when there's nothing going on, primarily because we don't really care much about any of the characters on any level. There is a baby in the film that we might actually feel something for, except that the baby itself is ridiculous, pacified by loud heavy metal, or smiling when it sees a gun. I realize from the constant allusions that Shoot 'Em Up is striving to be a sort of cartoon for adults, where anything can happen. Smith chews on raw carrots Bugs Bunny style throughout, not to mention all of the rabbit, rodent and hunter/prey allusions, to constantly remind us that it's all Looney Tunes. Even this is nothing new, as one recalls Riggs from Lethal Weapon constantly employing "Three Stooges" gags on his opponents, and even in the last year, we've seen Running Scared, which also tries equally hard to secure itself in a position of being nothing more than a live-action cartoon, teeming with absurd action fraught with deadliness and explosiveness. As fun as it might be in spots, Shoot 'Em Up is just concentrated sleaze and sensationalized pyrotechnics.
One of the things I like to do before writing my review is to run through the emotions and thoughts that came into play, as well as my feelings coming out of a film once it's all over. During the film, I will admit feeling occasionally amused, although I think some of the aspects disturbed me greatly (dumping off the baby in the middle of nowhere, the misogynist attitude toward every female character, etc.). It didn't completely sicken me like Running Scared, but there were moments when I felt disheartened by the repulsiveness depicting the seedy side of the city's underbelly, which Davis seems to enjoy wallowing in far too much to not feel he enjoys his repugnant tendencies, despite whatever commentary he tries to lay down regarding gun control and the violent nature of music and TV. Coming out of the film, I felt practically nothing -- nothing but 80 minutes older. In my opinion, when you've just watched nearly an hour and a half of the most lurid sights and sounds, coming out of a film feeling nothing at all about it is not a positive.
I gave a modest recommendation to Live Free and Die Hard, despite being equally over the top at times, primarily because it had a cleverness to its ridiculousness that I could admire. Shoot 'Em Up is equally clever, if not more so, but I think the one thing lacking in this case is that I never could feel anything from a story or character standpoint. All of my feelings stemmed directly from the visceral display, whether being sickened, amused, bored or engaged. Sensations were immediately felt and just as immediately forgotten. It's all sensory titillation that practically begs to be used by psychologists to gauge human response to in their pursuit of studies on how violence affects people on a subconscious level. Perhaps these same psychologists should sit down and study Matthew Davis himself and try to resolve why he seems to want to see harm surrounding anything that has to do with the biological differences that women have (breastfeeding, childbirth, sex organs, and the like).
Perhaps there might be a subversive reason to recommend the film after all. If, like in A Clockwork Orange, the showcasing of nonstop violence will be enough to sate those with a thirst for it, then I'm all for it. I can tell you that the last thing I wanted to think about after Shoot 'Em Up's run time expired was seeing another senseless act of violence.
©2007 Vince Leo