Shoot 'Em Up (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Ever since people saw him in a tuxedo in Croupier, Clive Owen was considered the likely successor to Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. It remains unclear whether the producers passed over Owen in favor of the lesser known Daniel Craig or whether (as some reports indicate) Owen turned down the opportunity to play the superspy, preferring not to have the baggage along with the paycheck. Whatever the case, Shoot 'Em Up provides an opportunity to glimpse what might have been. While Owen does not play a character with any zeroes in his moniker, he does a lot of the same kind of stunts that are expected from any self-respecting 007. Of course, though his moves might be pure Bond, his manner and appearance are not. No martinis (shaken or stirred), no chic gadgets, no cool cars, and no impeccable threads. Just two-day stubble and clothing that hasn't been washed in a week. Then again, if your leading lady is Monica Bellucci, do you really need anything more? There aren't many Bond girls who can hold a candle to her.

There's a little bit of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in Shoot 'Em Up, although this production isn't as smart or as slick. Shoot 'Em Up is one huge send-up of the action genre, and pretty much consists of shoot-outs and chases overtaking each other like waves rolling onto a beach, each more over-the-top than its predecessor. Everything is played for laughs and the body count easily hits the triple digits, although it's tough to keep track accurately. It's all carnage and mayhem, all the time. One scene gives new meaning to the term "coitus interruptus," and there's a strong argument that when Clive Owen is in a nearby car, it's best to use your turn signal. When it comes to road rage, this guy's pretty intense.

Owen plays a bum who goes by the name of Mr. Smith. He's a most extraordinary bum because he seems to be a hybrid of Bond and Superman. An act of foolish gallantry gets him into trouble: he tries to save a pregnant woman from assassination. She gives birth then gets hit in the head with a stray bullet. This leaves Mr. Smith with a baby to care for - a baby whose life is wanted by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) for reasons yet to be revealed. Needing help with the infant, Mr. Smith turns to the only woman he knows: a lactating prostitute (Bellucci) who initially rebuffs him until she has a heart-to-heart chat with Mr. Hertz. Pretty soon, it's this version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (plus baby) on the run from about six dozen hitmen and a score (or so) of highly trained government agents. They shoulda brought more guys.

When it comes to truth in advertising, Shoot 'Em Up delivers. You want gunfights, you get gunfights - big, wild, and crazy. The problem with the film is that it's a one joke concept. Even at a slim 85 minutes, it wears out its welcome. The first half hour is great fun. The second half-hour is okay. Past the hour mark, however, exhaustion - the stepchild of repetition - sets in. Plus, there are a couple of graphic torture sequences that cast a pall over the proceedings rather than adding to the general sense of gleeful havoc. Then again, director Michael Davis is all about breaking down barriers here, so he likely relishes the jolt of discomfort these scenes will provide, just like he probably doesn't care that elements of his audience will have trouble with the extremes he goes to regarding the "baby in peril." (Interesting that this is the second movie in which Owen has been stuck protecting a baby - not that there are any other similarities to Children of Men.)

Hard-core action fans will enjoy what the film has to offer, even if it runs 50% longer than it needs to. There isn't a credible moment in the entire enterprise, and that's intentional. Any review that uses the terms "preposterous" or "unrealistic" in a pejorative sense has missed the point. I like Shoot 'Em Up's audacity and its willingness to push the envelope beyond the limits of good taste. In the end, it's a little too long and uneven to recommend outright, but I won't deny having enjoyed aspects of what Davis is offering. Drinking the full adrenaline-with-a-wink cocktail might be too much, but there's nothing wrong with sampling it.

Shoot 'Em Up (United States, 2007)

Director: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci
Screenplay: Michael Davis
Cinematography: Peter Pau
Music: Paul Haslinger
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1