Sometimes movies look so much better on paper and storyboards rather than on an actual reel of film. Such is the case with Shoot ‘Em Up. It is every writer’s wet dream, a movie light on plot, dialogue and substance; heavy on nonstop action, including incredible gun and knife fights, car chases, aerial battles and scenes of excruciating pain (also known as torture). I can only imagine the smile on the face of writer/director Michael Davis as he penned this. I can also imagine the frowns of everyone during post production when they saw the final product.
Clive Owen is Mr. Smith, a guy very similar in nature to his previous role of Dwight McCarthy in Sin City. He’s a loner with a shitload of guns and the keen ability to use them, and he has a soft spot in his heart for prostitutes (don’t we all?). It’s a good thing too because he’s got himself and his hooker girlfriend Donna (Monica Bellucci) in a middle of a very bad situation. By saving a newborn baby (named Oliver) from execution, they’re now the number one enemy of Hertz (Paul Giamatti), a middle manager hustler-type with visions and talk of grandeur. Wave after wave of his henchmen hunt them until finally, Smith decides to bring the war to their doorstep, at which time what was already seen as over-the-top action, is taken 15 notches higher.
And that is what makes Shoot ‘Em Up a fun movie to watch. The action is simply a sight to see. I don’t recall seeing such outrageous gun fights and action scenes put to film before. The closest I’ve seen to this level was in the 2006 flick Crank. Any scene that could have a gun discharging or have blood being spilled, does. That includes sex scenes, sky diving scenes and a scene at a seemingly serene playground. There are no preconceived notions that there is an actual story to tell – it is all about balls-to-the-wall energy.
But alas, that is also the failure of the movie. There is no real story to tell. Instead of a movie with a plot interlaced with action sequences and moments of high intensity, Shoot ‘Em Up mixes in moments of drama and story to break up the excessiveness of the film. Unto itself it is an interesting concept, but those moments of plot spinning are gratingly painful to watch. Clive Owen does a terrible job carrying the weight of this film. His delivery is forced and artificial. His cocky, witty one liners flat-line the moment they escape his lips. Paul Giamatti is so annoying that I was praying for his death. As for Monica Bellucci, she looks rotten. Her close-ups reveal blotches and anomalies I’d rather have not seen. And since when did she decide to not get naked for her art? She’s certainly not an accomplished enough actress to not be exploited in films like this.
The only way I can recommend this movie to you to watch, would be if you told me that you were in the mood to be mindlessly entertained by a violent movie that does not, in any way shape or form, pretend to be a good movie. If, on the other hand, you’re even remotely looking for a film that makes sense on some level (no matter how miniscule it is), Shoot ‘Em Up is not for you.