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Websters defines a “shoot’em up” as a “movie, television show, or computer game with much shooting and bloodshed.” In the simplest of terms, this film is exactly that. Writer/Director Michael Davis basically thought up the most ridiculous circumstances for a shootout (while delivering a baby, having sex and skydiving were the obvious choices) and then formed an interesting, if unbelievable plot around those moments. What results is like a John Woo movie on crack, with non-stop action, cheesy but deliciously quotable one-liners and bad ass performances that make up for the just plain bad plot.
Shoot ‘Em Up begins along a deserted street where Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), a jaded loner who hates just about everyone (especially people who don’t signal or slurp their coffee), notices an extremely pregnant mother chased down by a gun-toting bad guy. Armed with only a carrot (his favorite snack), Mr. Smith plays the reluctant hero, telling the bad guy to “Eat your vegetables” as he shoves the carrot full on through his throat. Already the film has set the cartoonish violence bar very high. As the woman goes into labor, Smith helps deliver the baby while using her gun to ward off the rest of the goons. The shootout ends when the mother takes a bullet in the crown, leaving Smith with the innocent child.
Not your typical family man, Smith enlists the help of a lactating prostitute Donna Quintana (Monica Bellucci) or DQ for short (yes the Dairy Queen pun comes back later), to help care for the baby as he fends off a seemingly endless supply of goons courtesy of uber-villain Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Meanwhile, Smith slowly unravels a convoluted political plot involving an ill presidential candidate, a “baby factory,” and a large gun corporation. It’s best to ignore all the preposterous details and just concentrate on the main points: Smith has baby, Hertz wants baby dead, Smith and Hertz try to kill each other, 87 minutes of movie fun ensues.
If you’re not a fan of suspending disbelief to watch a character miraculously avoid getting shot while using MacGyver-like skills to turn ordinary objects into murder accessories, then you probably should skip Shoot ‘Em Up. With all its highly stylized action sequences, the film wastes no time on character development or believability and even some of the shootouts fall flat (e.g. the skydiving sequence….literally). But for those action-junkies looking for cool characters, innovative shots (both with a gun and camera), and some memorable dialogue, there is little to complain about. Clive Owen is perfectly cast as Mr. Smith (who else could make shoving a carrot through someone’s eye so unbelievably sexy?), while Paul Giamatti’s villainous Hertz is simply delightful.
Ultimately, what the film lacks in story it makes up for in sheer entertainment value and with such a short runtime, the film ends before that runs out. Head into Shoot ‘Em Up prepared for ridiculous violence and some very poor taste… also be prepared to laugh at said violence and taste. If you can appreciate the film as a stylized tribute to action classics like Woo’s Hard Boiled, you won’t be disappointed. If not, well, no one has a gun pointed at your head, which is more than we can say for Smith.