Many action movies are, by their nature, pretty much cartoons. They feature action heroes that survive countless ordeals which would kill an ordinary person. They have villains that cackle and go overboard enough to rival cartoon lunatics. And logic holes are so big in the majority of action films, you might as well have the Looney Tunes gang there to defy gravity while they’re at it. So, with that in mind, here’s an action film that cuts out the middle man and goes right to being a live action cartoon display of violence. The title “Shoot ‘Em Up” helps give it away as well.
A pregnant woman is running for her life, and fortunately runs past a man named Mr. Smith. Smith manages to kill scores of people while delivering the woman’s baby, but she doesn’t make it. Smith then has to keep the baby safe while shooting the hundred more bad guys after him, led by self proclaimed genius Mr. Hertz. That’s pretty much the gist of it.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” could almost be seen as an homage to the action movie genre. After all, many an action film that tries to take itself seriously are this stupid and ridiculous, so they cut out those parts and just have endless killing. But there’s already something that falls under that kind of aim- they’re called video games. And that’s what “Shoot Em Up” is really, a video game where all the viewer’s missing is a joystick to kill people on the screen on their own.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” can also fall on the “so bad it’s good” category. Since it isn’t even trying to be good in the conventional sense, it goes for moments that would be howlers in regular old bad movies. A carrot is used as a lethal weapon twice. The Looney Tunes are referenced a few times on purpose. Half the lines in the film are awful puns. The action choreography is physically impossible and incredibly violent. Hundreds die, but the one sex scene starts off in the shadows, and then doesn’t even allow female lead Monica Bellucci to show that much nudity- and they finish off while Smith has to kill more assassins. And they even have the gall after that to mention gun control as a central point of the movie’s ultimate conspiracy. The biggest restraint “Shoot ‘Em Up” has is in not making a wisecrack about Mr. Hertz’s name.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” seems to actually try to be bad enough that it will start to seem good. However, movies that try to be good and end up being so bad are much more enjoyable and fun to watch. “Shoot ‘Em Up” is just another action film that’s dumb and has a high body count- the fact that it knows this going in doesn’t make it as much fun as it should be. Its always the more oblivious movies that get the most long lasting intentional laughs.
Clive Owen is a suitable choice as the designated action hero/killing machine. Traditional action stars have little to say besides very lame puns, rarely raise their voice above a monotone, act gruff to everyone they’re not trying to kill, and can be manipulated to look like they really are doing physics defying action. By those standards, Owen is perfectly cast in “Shoot ‘Em Up.” He’s capable of a lot more, but for this kind of action movie, the bare minimum is good enough. Paul Giamatti is a bit of a less traditional choice as the snarling head villain. More of a comedy and straight drama actor, Giamatti at least has his enjoyable delivery intact, and can look a bit like a psychopath. Monica Bellucci, as the hooker/wet nurse dragged on board, fares a bit worse and is put through a few particularly dumb situations.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” certainly has the advantage of having action that’s so over the top and insane that it’s often jaw dropping. With more than a few new ways to kill people, as well as some really groan inducing punch lines, it is a great representation of the action genre’s most moronic elements. However, it is puzzling as to why this much disturbed imagination is being used to pay homage to the worst of an often pretty bad genre. As such, “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a case of someone aiming low, and getting there pretty much on purpose for some reason.