September 13, 2007

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Shoot ’Em Up (R)
Clive Owen lays down a thick cloud of bullets and follows it up with a cyclone of punches and kicks in the giddy Shoot ’Em Up, a down-market action movie that gives us something like an unemployed, semi-homeless version of James Bond.

Or maybe Smith (the purposefully fake name by which we know Owen’s character, an apparent slacker with some kind of sharp-shooter, black ops past filled with tragedy) is more a potty-mouthed, human version of Bugs Bunny. No matter how many henchmen are waiting to pounce on the equally loaded-for-bear Smith, he often manages to take a second to pull a carrot (leafy greens and all) out of his coat and chomp down a few times. The movie playfully lets him drop a “What’s up, Doc” and Hertz (Paul Giamatti), the man consumed with killing Smith, has the “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit” bit of Wagner as his cell phone ringtone.

Smith launches on his campaign of destruction for no good reason, really, other than that, as he waits for a bus, munching on a carrot and drinking God knows what, a pregnant girl runs by moaning from labor and screaming with fear. She’s not long after followed by a man who, as he rounds the corner to chase her down, pulls out a gun and gives Smith a menacing look.

Annoyed with himself for caring, Smith nonetheless follows the pair into a warehouse where he defeats the chaser long enough to make off with the chasee and, as other bad guys join the fight, he’s able to fend them off and help her deliver her baby. The pursuit does not let up, however, and soon Smith finds himself faced with the choice of leaving the just minutes-old baby to some violent fate, or future involving himself and running off with it.

What would Bugs do?

Smith ends up on the run, faced with two key problems — figuring out why someone’s after junior and finding junior some food. For the latter and general baby assistance, he turns to Donna (Monica Bellucci) a prostitute with, er, useful attributes. She initially turns down Smith’s request for assistance but after Hertz shows up for a game of question-and-torture, she decides on the run is the safer place to be. Donna and Smith work to keep the baby, who they eventually call Oliver, safe while a complicated plot involving a gun manufacturer, a senator and some ethically questionable science works against their efforts.

Oh, and there’s a whole lot of shooting.

The magazine Entertainment Weekly has been keeping a running tally of movie fatalities over the summer. I can only imagine how many times their staffers would have to watch this movie before getting anything like an accurate count of downed henchmen. For all I know, each one was played by the same guy, multiplied a zillion times, ala Attack of the Clones. They fall down, other guys appear — all blessedly free of character development. If pure gleeful violence is what you’re looking for (as opposed to, say, the gut-twisting violence of Eastern Promises), Shoot ‘Em Up gets the tone just right.

In fact, just about everything in Shoot ’Em Up is just right. Owen is the right mix of devil-may-care and don’t-pick-on-babies. Bellucci is sexy but not weak or helpless. Giamatti seems to be having the time of his life, pouring on extra scuzziness for this villainous role. One could argue that the plot is silly and the twists and turns of the villains’ motivation are basically disinteresting but to that I’d counter: plot? There was a plot? B

Rated R for pervasive strong bloody violence, sexuality and some language. Written and directed by Michael Davis, Shoot ’Em Up is an hour and 33 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by New Line Cinema.