The title of this film really does give the rest of it away: “Shoot ‘Em Up,” directed by Michael Davis, is nothing but 87 minutes of unadulterated guns and gore, mixed with the occasional one-liner thrown in for good measure. While this may sound like any action-lovers’ fantasy, the film could leave even the most hardcore fan of the genre desperately seeking more plot and fewer gunshots.
Clive Owen plays Smith, a carrot-chomping, mysterious man with a seemingly dark past, who finds himself attempting to save the life of a pregnant woman who is being pursued by a gang of gun-carrying men. Smith manages to deliver the baby (five minutes into the movie, it comes as no surprise when he shoots off the umbilical cord) but fails to prevent the mother’s murder. Smith is then thrust into a conspiracy involving a dying politician, a firearms manufacturer and the manufacturer’s right-hand thug, Hertz, played with overeager gusto by Paul Giamatti. Smith enlists the assistance of a lactating hooker named Donna Quintano — Monica Belluci, most known for her role in “The Passion of the Christ” — to care for the child as they attempt to discover exactly why this baby is so special.
But really, the plot is not what is important here. Though the film places a surprising (and perhaps ironic) emphasis on gun control — even Hertz admits “guns don’t kill people! But they sure help” — it becomes apparent quite quickly that guns aid these characters from the first scene to the last. In fact, the storyline only seems to get in the way of yet another live-action sequence involving guns and the occasional carrot. While the film may be a conscious parody of Quentin Tarantino-style flicks featuring ludicrous sequences of bloody violence, “Shoot ‘Em Up,” can only be aptly described as downright ridiculous. Such absurdities could have made for an entertaining movie had wit been a part of the equation. Unfortunately, the film favors tacky dialogue and grandiose gun fights over anything even remotely substantial. Ultimately, the film fails because it lacks the sharp commentaries of popular culture that Tarantino is so adept at.
Even so, the film is not altogether devoid of exhilarating moments. Highly stylized stunts and frenzied camera movements demonstrate some imagination in the midst of the mediocrity. After all, it’s difficult not to at least appreciate a shootout staged while skydiving (or while having sex for that matter).
In all fairness, Owen once again demonstrates his ability to make even the most disgruntled characters appear charismatic. This is a man who still manages to look classy while sticking a carrot straight through another man’s head. It’s difficult to say the same for his costars, though. Giamatti is far too over the top, though it is amusing to see him play a virile character that is a far cry from previous (award-winning) roles. Likewise, Belluci, though undeniably beautiful, delivers her lines as stiffly as if she were actually being held at gunpoint. While Belluci failed to live up to my lofty expectations in her role as a lactating prostitute, I would like to give an Academy Award to anyone who could manage to pull off a line like, “It’s a better investment than a crib,” when speaking of buying a bulletproof vest for a baby.
Inevitably, “Shoot Em Up” should not be called a movie. It’s simply an elongated cartoon with real people and a lot of guns. If nothing but over-the-top blood and carnage is your thing, you just might get a good laugh. If not, you most certainly won’t. And if you’re looking for a film about gun control, please look elsewhere.