Left, R1, Up, Down, A button…then you realize
you don't actually have a game controller in your hand.
Not even a Wii Remote. But the action on screen as Clive
Owen ducks, dodges, weaves and shoots is so engaging, sweaty
and immediate that you'd swear this is the best videogame
you've ever played. Perhaps the biggest unremarked irony
in Shoot 'em Up is that there doesn't seem to be
a videogame tie-in.
Of course, a videogame would have to slow
down in order for a normal human being to react as fast
as Owen's mysterious Mr. Smith. No human could react that
fast, and that's part of the gag -- Smith is like Bugs Bunny
without the penchant for drag, at least until the sequel.
Just one more cartoon character in a genre that has become
increasingly cartoonish to satisfy its jaded audience.
Writer/director Michael Davis famously
designed this film with animatics before he even cast, because
he knew that this thing had to be completely about the over-the-top
violence. Does that make this stylish parody, satire, or
merely exploitative? All that I can say for sure is that
I laughed almost continuously from start to finish.
If you want some semblance of a plot, the
film does offer one, but it's just as ridiculous as the
violence. What little exposition exists comes fairly late
into the film. Instead, Davis offers action and character.
We first see Clive Owen doing the most deliberate job of
eating a carrot ever put on film. He sits at a bus stop,
where a pregnant woman runs by clutching her stomach and
crying. It soon becomes apparent she has men after her,
and with a few choice expletives, Owen stands up and enters
a fray he doesn't want or understand.
The nameless woman (Ramona Pringle) survives
the initial delirious, pulse-pounding attack, revealed to
be led by a rabid Paul Giamatti after Owen delivers her
baby and shoots the umbilical cord. And this all happens
in the first five minutes.
Shoot 'em Up plays out like what
Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero should have been.
It covers every major action franchise, playing out all
the clichés with a merciless humor without ever actually
calling attention to them. Either you get it or you don't.
Even to comment on the acting seems beside
the point. Owen has his heavy-lidded tough guy act down
cold, allowed to flex his natural British accent but rarely
allowed to show a range of emotion. Instead, he's just a
perfect killing machine, Bond mixed with Bourne while even
mocking his own appearance in the BMW action series The
Matching him and relishing every moment
of being a villain, Giamatti creates yet another memorable
persona. Hen-pecked via cellphone, his psychotic family
man/hitman makes a perfect foil, claiming to be emotionless
but wearing every single nerve on the outside of his skin.
Then there's Monica Bellucci as a lactating
hooker with a heart of gold. Those lips, that accent, those
impossible smoldering eyes are no more real than Clive Owen's
apparent indestructibility, and Davis takes the combination
to a logical ridiculous extreme halfway through the movie
that, while not exactly explicit, will make artistic porn
directors green with envy. Why had no one thought of it
It defies my efforts to think critically,
commenting on action films while actually being the best
action film we've had in a long time. So go see it. Practice
some videogames. Then get ready for the sequel, Mow 'em
(apologies to Ted Kopulos for stealing
his lobby punchline.)