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January 16, 2008

DVD REVIEW: Is ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’ Real Action or Comic Farce?


By Stephen Silver

Action movies get a bizarro reworking in “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a pseudo-parody of various action genres directed by Michael Davis that’s new to DVD after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it run in theaters last fall. The movie is action-packed at times and side-splittingly hilarious at others, but nearly impossible to take seriously.


Like such recent actioners as 2006’s “Lucky Number Slevin” and last year’s “Smokin’ Aces,” “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a throwback to the Quentin Tarantino rip-offs that dotted the film landscape throughout the mid-‘90s. And like those other films, it’s considerably difficult at times to tell whether the primary objective of “Shoot ‘Em Up” is to function on its own merits as a legitimate action film, or as a parody of such.


The film’s hero is Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), a mysterious urban adventurer who is introduced in a warehouse fighting off villains – get this – while delivering a mysterious woman’s baby. The villains, who want the baby dead for mysterious reasons, are led by a nerdish gangster (Paul Giamatti), and Smith, aided by a wet nurse/prostitute (Monica Bellucci), must fight the bad guys and get to the bottom of the mystery – with the baby in tow at all times.


The action is certainly excellent throughout, evoking a John Woo-style ballet of violence, especially in an elaborately choreographed scene involving a staircase filled with the villain’s henchmen. There’s also, in the tradition of “MacGyver,” some creative use of nontraditional props as weapons, including a hand drier, carrots (multiple times!), a pulley system that shoots guns in a circle and even various baby-related implements of destruction.


At the same time, the use of certain well-timed puns and catchphrases is so ridiculous that there’s no way it could possibly be meant in a non-tongue-in-cheek way. Some lines are so cringe-inducing that even James Bond would smirk at them. The plot, meanwhile, is nonsense, tossing in a conspiracy theory that involves a science experiment and even ensnares gun lobbyists and a presidential candidate.


Constantly munching on carrots a la Bugs Bunny, Owen gives his usual dynamic lead performance, having no trouble commanding the screen – although it’s not nearly as ambitious a movie as “Children of Men,” the last film when Owen was entrusted with the care of a very important baby. Bellucci is less impressive. Like Penelope Cruz before her, she seems to have a great deal of trouble acting in English.


Which isn’t to say that “Shoot ‘Em Up” is lacking in lofty goals. The implausible action blowouts just keep topping themselves. The film begins with the movies’ first-ever birth-based shooting sequence, later doubles down with a shootout/sex scene, and completes the trifecta with a gun battle . . . set in mid-air, as Owen and multiple villains parachute out of a plane.


On top of that, the movie manages to toss in just about every action movie cliché of the past two decades, everything from the Villain Who Isn’t Really Dead to the Unlimited Supply of Henchmen to (of course) Roger Ebert’s Fallacy of the Talking Killer. “Shoot ‘Em Up” rivals “Hot Fuzz,” also from last year, when it comes to how many different movies it parodies and/or steals from. The ending, meanwhile, should gladden all the Tarantino fans who are still disappointed that Samuel L. Jackson got out of the diner scene by talking rather than shooting.


Extras are sparse, with merely one commentary (by Davis), a beside-the-point making-of documentary, and a couple of deleted scenes that were clearly deleted for a reason.


Three stars (out of five).


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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