the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up

Say what you will about Shoot ‘Em Up, you have to give the madcap actioner points for truth in advertising. With a title like Shoot ‘Em Up, you don’t exactly expect an intricate plot or lavish character development. And it’s a good thing too. Shoot ‘Em Up couldn’t care less about such finer points. It’s one preposterous action sequence after another; a film in which the escalation of violence is inversely proportional to its plummeting good taste.

While minding his own business on a bench one evening, the generically named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) witnesses a terrified pregnant woman stagger past him and into a dilapidated building with gun-wielding thugs hot on her heels. Mr. Smith reaches into his trench coat, pulls out a large carrot from which he takes a hefty bite, and proceeds to use it to kill or maim the small army. (Smith eats carrots for his eyesight, though for at least two bad guys, the carrots have exactly the opposite affect on their’s…if you know what I mean!) Unfortunately the pregnant woman is killed in the ensuing hail of gunfire, but not before the handy-to-have-around Mr. Smith delivers her baby and safely flees the scene.

It’s obvious that Mr. Smith has no idea what to do with the child. Nor does the lactating hooker, DQ (Monica Bellucci), but at least she’s better equipped for the task than the carrot munching Smith who talks her into caring for the baby while he snoops around and tries to figure out why FBI profiler gone bad, Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) keeps sending a seemingly inexhaustible supply of expendable henchmen to kill it. What Smith uncovers is a convoluted marriage of convenience between the largest gun manufacturer in America and an ailing presidential candidate who hopes to harvest the child’s bone marrow.

Shoot ‘Em Up is an action film’s wet dream. Not that most actions films are slaves to realism and authenticity, but Shoot ‘Em Up delights in being so over the top as to brandish its outlandishness as a badge of honor. One absurd sequence leads to another as it tries to outdo every action film that has gone before it — a firefight takes place during sexual intercourse, another while skydiving. With a dozen such sequences, Shoot ‘Em Up’s frenetic pace leaves little time for catching one’s breath. If and when the film does slow down, it is usually so that Smith can mutter the sort of cringe-inducing one-liners James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger used to deliver.

Shoot ‘Em Up is director Michael Davis’ first theatrical release. He is best known for trashy, direct-to-DVD releases. Don’t be fooled. That Shoot ‘Em Up made it to the big screen does not mean that it is in any way superior to his previous efforts. Davis’ direction is dark and sloppy, a slapdash cinematography that hopes viewers will be so focused on the absurdist mayhem that they won’t notice how clumsy and incompetent the film is. Mr. Davis, you are no American John Woo.

Over-the-top, mindless action is intrinsically acceptable. There is something to be said for a film that goes for broke and is shamelessly about pure, unadulterated, mindless entertainment. What is unforgivable is Shoot ‘Em Up’s shoddy execution. If you are going to break the rules so brazenly, you better be darn sure what you can deliver the goods.

What perhaps makes Shoot ‘Em Up most difficult to bear is that it is populated with truly wonderful actors. The terrific Owen plays the anti-Bond, hinting at the very traits that made so many speculate over his chances for taking over the 007 role, even while simultaneously tearing them down. When Smith commandeers a BMW at one point in the film, we cannot help but think the filmmakers are paying homage to the series of Owen’s extremely enjoyable, 2001 BMW commercials, The Hire. Obviously Owen is relishing a chance to stash his brain and run around with guns and hot women (and who can really blame him?), but he doesn’t seem to be having all that much fun.

Quite the opposite with Paul Giamatti, the stellar actor who has chosen a number of baddies for his recent roles. While he is fun to watch as the scene-chewing hitman who is constantly interrupted by his none-the-wiser wife in the midst of committing the most violent crimes, he is more parody than substance. Funny and creepy, he plays the role with relish…and cheese. Italian superstar Monica Bellucci has proven herself a competent actress, but she falls victim to a problem many actors have when performing in a language other than their native tongue — they concentrate on their enunciation at the expense of their performance.

Shoot ‘Em Up is a film that purports, in its press materials, to “poke fun at America’s big obsessions — guns and breasts and violence — in that order.” But it’s a mixed message if ever there was one — a tactless, tasteless cartoon that uses the high-minded ideals of satire and social commentary to cloak the fact that it is interested in nothing more than shamelessly pandering to the most base, juvenile angels of our nature.


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