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Shoot ’Em Up

Nicola Mostyn, a bonkers new action flick and lethal carrots

Published on September 18th 2007.


Shoot ’Em Up

This might just be the most ridiculous film I’ve ever seen. A man is sitting on a bench on a graffiti-scrawled street. When a pregnant woman hurries past being chased by an armed man he reluctantly follows, borrows the woman’s gun, kills a slew of bad guys, delivers her baby, shoots the umbilical cord, chomps on a carrot (carrots are his ‘thing’) and then, when the mother catches one in the forehead, makes off with the newborn amid a hail of gunfire backed by a heavy rock soundtrack. From here on in, you know that you need not only suspend your disbelief but disconnect all the other wiring in your frontal lobe, too.

So, this is Mr Smith (Clive Owen), a man so supernaturally good with his gun that he takes time out from killing assassins to shoot out some neon lettering to better articulate his feelings. Sharing his quirky approach to murder is chief bad guy Hertz (Paul Giamatti) who, for reasons which will eventually become apparent (extremely silly ones), is determined to kill the baby and won’t stop gurning, grunting and making really bad quips until he’s done so.

The film is initially reminiscent of a comic strip adaptation, with its Spaghetti Western stand offs, brooding setting and impossible, gung-ho violence. It also has moments of cartoon-dom, such as the way it pits Smith as Bugs Bunny to Hertz’s Elmer Fudd. But mostly, as the title suggests, it has the ridiculously broad plot, generic dialogue and momentous bodycount of a computer game.

It’s a great idea for a story: what could be more vital for a hero than protecting a newborn life? And never mind that all this excessive violence is taking place round a child whose head is still as squashy as a water balloon.

And who better to take on foster-dad duties than CliveOwen, an actor who moseys through the bloodshed like he’s sauntering in the supermarket, making him either incredibly cool or very one dimensional, or, since this is computer game logic, both.

Action fans will no doubt delight in the many film references in Shoot 'Em Up but to the occasional action fan (i.e me), the film is reminiscent of Tarantino, though with less style (bad) and less self consciousness (good). In dispensing with anything approaching sense, Davis has gone all out to make a film which is not so much a spoof as an unashamed celebration of all the excessive machismo and hokeyness of the genre. It is not merely a bad film, it’s a film which is actively straining to see how bad it can be and having a helluva time in the process.

The film crams in as many clichés as it does bullets: Hertz is constantly on the phone placating his bossy wife, Smith has a past which includes a dead wife and child, and, having rescued a hungry new born, he just happens to know a prostitute (played by Monica Belluci) who breastfeeds men for a living. Uh…hold on, maybe that last one isn’t such a cliché.

In fact, this is one of the ways Shoot 'Em up manages to draw you in, straining against your better judgement as you do so: by mixing the truly trite and groan-inducing with the frankly disturbing - bullet shells bouncing off a woman’s pregnant belly, people being violently killed with carrots and – this is something I never want to see again – Paul Giamatti fondling a dead woman’s boob.

At 86 minutes Shoot ‘Em up is short enough that you spend it snorting, groaning, shaking your head and grinning and are then ousted back into the world without dwelling too long on the fact that a film which comprises all the most ridiculous aspects of hardboiled action films, without any really clever jokes, lines or ideas, is just one gloriously terrible film. With extra veg.

Shoot ’Em Up is out now on general release

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