Shoot 'Em Up

Shoot 'Em Up

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Meet Mr Smith (Clive Owen). He is, as one character puts it, "the angriest man in the world", taking wildly disproportionate umbrage at grown men who sport ponytails, earrings or sandals, at yuppies who change lanes without signaling, or at anyone who aims a gun in his general direction - the last mentioned being a type that he has an uncanny knack of attracting and then efficiently dispatching in large numbers. And in case anyone has misread the tone of all this, Smith's habit of constantly crunching on raw carrots drives it home that this rascally rabbit's brand of extreme violence is most definitely of the cartoonish variety.

Smith says very little and tends to keep his counsel, but he still expresses himself eloquently through elaborate modes of gunplay (even shooting out part of a neon sign in one scene so that the remaining letters spell out to his foes exactly what is on his mind). He delivers a baby under fire, he combines shooting with pushing a children's roundabout, he skydives with guns blazing, he even has passionate sex during a shootout. For Smith, like the similarly named hero of Mr And Mrs Smith (2005), tends to announce his appearance in a hail of bullets; and while he may not quite 'go to Washington' like his namesake in Frank Capra's 1939 film, he does at least get to shoot a corrupt senator.

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All of which makes Shoot 'Em Up a sometimes hilarious, sometimes eye-goggling reductio ad absurdum of the action flick to its barest kinetic essentials - like one of those porn compilations of money shots, only in a different genre. Here almost every scene is built around variations of bullet ballet. There is surprisingly complicated, if preposterous, plotting, there is even some barebones dialogue, and plenty of half-assed quips - but to judge the film by these is to miss the point. Shoot 'Em Up, you see, presents a violent showdown where style (in its purest form) outshoots substance from the very first draw.

The cast acquit themselves as well as can be expected given the flimsiness of the characterisation. As a man of action rather than words, Clive Owen's Smith is a tightly wound-up cypher, always drawing a blank even if his bullets are real enough. In the unenviable role of tart with a heart (and two breasts full of milk) Donna, Monica Bellucci is serviceable as a raunchy dairy queen - in a film whose every female character is reduced to mother or whore, or both, with the one exception, never seen but often heard, being instead a nagging shrew. Stealing the show is Paul Giamatti as 'boss villain' Hertz, partly because of the way he so obviously revels in the absurdity of his part, but chiefly because he gets the most lines.

Dominated by the incongruous image of a dangerous gunman forced to play protective father to a baby not of his own making, Shoot 'Em Up is three parts John Woo's Hard Boiled (1992) to one part the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona (1987), and as gleefully silly as both those films. Bold but brainless, it will certainly fire up those viewers who happen to be young, male and not especially discriminating - but really just about anyone can smile at the irony when so bullet-riddled a film as this has the disingenuous audacity to set its sights on no less than America's gun lobby. Maybe it is just because some of its members are grown men with ponytails...

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2008
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Shoot 'Em Up packshot
An action man tries to protect a newborn baby during a gun battle. Out to own on DVD now.
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Chris ***1/2

Director: Michael Davis

Writer: Michael Davis

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

Year: 2007

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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