“Shoot ‘Em Up” is essentially a movie about guns and killing people with them in interesting ways, and it deserves credit for never pretending to be anything more than that. Basically everything you need to know happens within the opening five minutes, as the premise is about as simple and clear-cut as it can get.
Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) happens to oversee a pregnant lady attacked by a group of assassins and comes to her rescue, going so far as to deliver the baby amid a torrent of gunfire. Smith, who later gets some help from a local prostitute (Monica Bellucci), then takes it upon himself to keep the baby safe from Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his platoon of goons, as the conspiracy involving the baby slowly begins to unravel.
How much one will like the movie hinges on whether or not they will be able to accept its hyperrealist setting. With several references to Looney Tunes, it oftentimes plays as a kind of action movie cartoon, complete with exaggerated acting and outrageous shootouts. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, it wisely keeps its sense of humor intact, unafraid to wear its ridiculousness on its sleeve.
Delivering on the promise of its title, the film is a wild rollercoaster with rarely a dull moment. Boasting several extensive gun battles that would make John Woo proud, the fight scenes are clearly the film’s apex. At times, it is quite impressive to see what director Michael Davis is able to come up with, utilizing a vast array of guns, car chases, and more uses for a carrot than thought possible. The only time it is overly cheesy to the point of distraction is during the skydiving sequence which, while still fun, is poorly constructed and too obviously fake.
The actors aren’t given a lot of material to work with yet make the most of what little they do have. Owen is once again in his wisecracking, tough guy mode and fits the part perfectly. Excelling in the action scenes and delivering snappy one-liners, he offers a hint at what his James Bond interpretation would have looked like.
As the villain, Giamatti holds nothing back in his over-the-top performance. The role seems to be a bit beneath what the talented actor has done recently (“Sideways,” “Cinderella Man”), but he seems to be enjoying himself here, so it rubs off on the audience. On the other hand, Bellucci is reduced to little more than a pretty faced babysitter for when Smith goes off to fight, and is given too limited a screen time to build anything worthwhile into her character.
Outside of the shootouts, the movie doesn’t have much going for it. The character development and exposition is kept to a minimum to emphasize what it’s clearly all about—the action. While this keeps it from getting needlessly sidetracked, it also means its depth perception is extremely constrained. Its sense of logic follows the same pattern, including the big reveal at the end.
The film’s main strength lies in its well staged and executed action scenes, along with another entertaining performance by Clive Owen, and anyone expecting something more than a no-holds-barred gunfight flick should probably look elsewhere. However, for those who are able to look past its one dimensionality, it will prove to be a wacky and fun-filled ride, albeit one which is easily forgotten.