SHOOT âEM UP is a high-impact, adrenaline pumping, laugh-out-loud film that is so preposterously over the top that it is almost poetry. From the first 30 seconds when all is quiet, until the end credits roll, and then some, there is virtually not a moment when guns arenât firing, people arenât running, either towards them or away, and the hero of the piece, Mr. Smith (Clive Owen, isnât coolly in charge of even the diciest situation. Even when it seems that all is lost. Especially when it seems that all is lost. And thatâs the charm of this riff on action flicks. It doesnât just revisit the genre, it glorifies it by taking it to dizzying heights and even more dizzying extremes.
Those first 30 seconds begin with Smith minding his own business at a bus stop. A pregnant woman runs by. A man chases her. Threats are hurled. Weeping is heard. And Smith, with a world-weary sigh and a muttered profanity goes off to save the lady. Instead of an act of chivalry, however reluctant, he finds himself sole protector of the ladyâs newborn, which he delivers between rounds as he fends off an army of bad guys out to finish her and the baby off.
Plot just isnât the point here, though a token one is thrown in for cinema purists. The real point is Smith keeping one step ahead of Hertz (Paul Giamatti), Smithâs new arch nemesis, by flinging himself through windows, over rooftops, under machinery, and winging freefall, usually while clutching that infant to his manly breast. For 99% of the running time, guns blaze, knives fly, and carrots are revealed as the Swiss Army knives of the vegetable kingdom. The clichÃ©s explode like the rounds of ammunition as writer/director Michael Davis devises elaborate and elaborately ingenious ways to keep Smith in peril and then, just as ingeniously had him prevail with methods and schemes that are scathingly original. The quick cut editing that could make a even a potato look like a super hero renders the infinitely more toothsome Smith into an icon. As enigmatic as he is lethal, he has definite ideas about justice, etiquette, and male grooming and no qualms about expressing them with some rough but apt justice. Owen plays it absolutely straight with his rhetorical refrain âYou know what I hate?â and brooding menace juxtaposing to perfection the giddy mayhem at work here. Giamatti is just as deadpan, making Hertz a determined bean of a man with a ferocious capacity for vengeance brought to milquetoast heel by an unseen nagging wife.
And it all dashes along with no time for the audience to catch its collective breath This is more an experience than a film with a surreal tempo substituting admirably for logic. Itâs only misstep comes when Smith, needing to feed the infant, recruits Donna (Monica Bellucci), a lactating whore (donât ask), who, of course, has a heart of gold longing to bond with the baby. It is when they stop running and start talking that the flick descends from the ethereal realms of bombastic hyperbole. The recklessly breakneck pacing collapses with a metaphorical thud. Things pick up again nicely as Smith and his lady friend barely break their coital stride when the next ingeniously imagined gunfight breaks out.
SHOOT âEM UP manages to keep the impossible pacing it sets for itself suitably buoyant through its 88 minute run. Sure, itâs peppered with necessary exposition, but while that is the weakest part of the proceedings, itâs also got the right puckish flavor to send-up lesser films that try to be profound while reducing the scenery and some of the characters to splinters. Less a story than a breathtaking ballet, it surprises, stuns, and thoroughly entertains .