Watching Shoot 'Em Up reminded me a lot of the old Amitabh Bachchan actioners. You know, the very angry young man ones. With the same vague troubled past and a sneer that could fry you dead, Clive Owen could be a modern day Hollywood Bachchan. Only, way more handy with a gun or more, and helluva lot more con brio.
With Owen, director Michael Davis has found the perfect vehicle for his attempt at breaking free of the D-list schlock he has been putting up. Because Clive Owen may well be way beyond cool, and plenty dashing to carry off a film of this ilk without blinking. Owen's presence is that of a classic man man. A very modern one, but nevertheless, a man with absolutely zero metrosexual leanings, and nary a sight of makeup or even grooming.
This is the Bruce Willis / Amitabh Bachchan style ruggedness and willingness to put your nose in troubles involving gunfights and babies. This is a huge man in a trench coat with guns in his hand and no bull or reason to quit. Just so you understand what kind of a badass this guy is, the film has Owen deliver a baby in the middle of a gunfight, sever the umbilical with a gunshot, and then ramming a carrot through the eye socket of the dastardly villain.
The carrot, of course, was meant to serve as a metaphor, a symbol of the cartoony violence of the film. Owen as Smith was Bugs Bunny, forever running from Elmer Fudd, him being played by delectable villainy by Paul Giamatti as Hertz. The film, though, has all the subtlety of a Mike Tyson, and makes this point by letting the duo mouth actual lines from the cartoon show.
Much to the credit of Owen, then, that while holding a baby while shooting bad guys is something Inspector Tequila has done so very well, Shoot 'Em Up refuses to be Hard Boiled, and becomes a cartoon, by the simple majesty of Owen chewing a carrot and sneering at the audience. The very same audience who won't be squeamish at the sight of the violence, but will cringe at the blatant acts of sadism being purported by Hertz.
Once again, that is not always the case. Giamatti plays Hertz as an everyday bloke, keeping the edge off, and your empathy slightly disturbed. The plot is complete arse, of course. Smith is sitting on a bench one day and sees a pregnant woman being chased by men obviously looking like miscreants. When he saves the baby, enter the full force of Hertz's posse, and gunfights are piled upon more gunfights interspersed with yet more gunfights and some random sex with Monica Bellucci, while in a gunfight.
The reason all this is happening is made clear in due time, and rest assured, does not make one lick of sense. Davis keeps the proceedings tight by not meandering into some complete hogwash of a back story explaining anyone's motives or special ops training or whatever. The facts in the film are just there to serve as tenuous hangers on which he mounts action set pieces of increasing cool factor, directly proportionate to the increasingly insane factor.
With all of the best choreographed yet insanely ridiculous action sequences you will see this year crammed in one film, Davis has pretty much hit the bull's eye with the action buffs. The madness is infectious, but the fact remains that the plot is non-existent, the in-jokes lack in subtlety, and violence for comic effect wears thin by the end.
For as long as it lasts, though, the film is an over-the-top celebration of its own violence. The sheer audacity of Davis and his two lead actors, and the gall with which they make you a voyeur in the proceedings, are contagious. For an adrenaline-filled carnage of bodies and pure gun-porn, you can't go wrong with this one. This is Bugs Bunny with a gun and attitude taking on the world teamed up with a lactating prostitute and an infant all the while chewing a carrot. You get the idea.