Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

Loner battles assassins to protect an orphaned infant. High-decibel action with more style than substance.

Breakneck pacing and relentless action propel Shoot ‘Em Up, a grungy, belligerent pulp thriller with next-to-no redeeming social values. Allegedly inspired by John Woo’s kinetic, deeply sentimental Hard-Boiled, Shoot ‘Em Up actually owes a lot more to Chuck Jones’s elemental battles between the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Tune into the cartoon imagery, and the film can be a blast of adrenaline. Try to make sense of the plot and characters, and the whole thing might fall apart right before your eyes.

Writer and director Michael Davis also claims James Bond as an influence. The film’s “Mr. Smith” might be an anti-Bond, especially given Clive Owen’s brusque, tight-lipped performance. His leather overcoat and stubble may point to Hong Kong, but Smith’s improvised weaponry, superhuman stunts, familiarity with any means of propulsion, and sense of duty all evoke Ian Fleming. (The carrots Smith grows in his industrial loft, chews throughout the film, and uses as lethal weapons, call an even more famous character to mind.)

Smith has dropped out from society, but his chivalry forces him to aid a pregnant woman stalked by an armed goon. Following her from a downtown alley into a deserted warehouse, he finds himself in the first of the film’s many flamboyant set pieces. Smith helps the woman give birth, dispatching countless gunmen while shooting off the umbilical cord of the newborn baby boy. He also incurs the wrath of Hertz (Paul Giamatti), a vicious mercenary with a braying laugh and a nagging wife. When not fending off cell phone calls from his spouse, Hertz is dreaming up new ways to torture and kill his victims.

Left with caring for the infant, Smith seeks out Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute and professional wet nurse. The three are soon on the run from Hertz and his men, seeking clues that lead them to a millionaire gunsmith, an illicit baby factory, and a Presidential candidate.

The plot doesn’t matter as much as the action, which is stylish if never very credible. The Rube Goldberg stunts, like Smith besting an opponent with the drawer of a file cabinet, tend to work better than the Woo-like gunplay, but all the stunts are exciting and well-executed. Almost as much fun is watching Bellucci try to wrap her mouth around her dialogue.

No one goes to a film called Shoot ‘Em Up looking for subtlety. Given the high body count and wall-to-wall heavy metal soundtrack, it may be easy to overlook how well-crafted the movie is, from Peter Pau’s moody cinematography to editor Peter Amundson’s keen sense of timing. Michael Davis, whose previous credits have been in television or on direct-to-video features, earns some points for taking a well-worn premise to such extremes, and for having the nerve to spout gun control slogans in the midst of all the mayhem. But most of all for maintaining a surprisingly light touch and upbeat tone. Closer to Crank than Running Scared, Shoot ‘Em Up is one of this year’s best guilty pleasures.

Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Sidney Mende-Gibson, Lucas Mende-Gibson, Kaylyn Yellowlees, Ramona Pringle, Julian Richings.

Credits: Written and directed by Michael Davis. Produced by Susan Montford, Don Murphy, Rick Benattar. Executive producers: Douglas Curtis, Toby Emmerich, Cale Boyter. Director of photography: Peter Pau. Production designer: Gary Frutkoff. Edited by Peter Amundson. Costume designer: Denise Cronenberg. Music by Paul Haslinger. Music supervisor: Dana Sano. Visual effects supervisor: Edward J. Irastorza. Associate producer: Jeff Katz. A New Line Cinema presentation of a Montford/Murphy production.

New Line/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/87 Mins./R

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