BURBANK, California — They can leap from tall buildings without breaking stride and run far distances without stopping for breath. They get beaten, bruised and battered, but they always get up. They are indefatigable heroes with seemingly endless caches of bullets, always primed for the next fight, always ready with a quick one-liner. They are action stars, and their otherworldly skills often owe more to Daffy Duck than they do to real life.
One director, finally, is acknowledging the debt.
MTV News was among a handful of outlets to see advanced footage from Michael Davis’ “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a balls-to-the-wall, pull-out-all-the-stops action film starring Clive Owen as a man who must protect a small baby from a never-ending supply of bad guys, including boss Paul Giamatti.
The tone is established in the very first scene of the film, when Owen actually delivers the child while shooting henchmen, urging the unknown mother to push while empty shell casings fall on her still-heaving stomach.
It’s over-the-top action taken to cartoony proportions, director Michael Davis said.
“It is a kind of violent cartoon. Clive has this Bugs Bunny quality because he’s always getting out of these crazy situations and [at the same time] screwing over Paul Giamatti,” Davis said. “We even enhanced that later on in the story: Paul’s ringtone is the Wagner [opera parody] ‘Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.’ It really does have a Looney Toons quality.”
Despite Davis’ assertion, the Looney Toons aspect of the movie needed no additional enhancement, so pervasive is it in every scene we saw. During the 20-plus minutes of screened footage, Owen shoots an oil can, then uses the dripping grease to slide across an entire warehouse floor, shooting bad guys; throws a rope down a stairwell and acrobatically twirls 10 stories, shooting bad guys; breaks his windshield, hits an enemy’s truck, flies through both windshields, spins and, yes, shoots bad guys. And oh yeah, he does all of this while holding the baby.
“I would rather have the hero have some clever way of getting out of something rather than gigantic explosions — I like it when the guy has a light bulb go off in his head and he executes [the idea],” Davis said. “In the beginning of the car chase, Clive buckles his seatbelt. I needed him to buckle his seat belt so when he unbuckles, [audiences] go, ‘Oh, he’s going to go through the windshield.’ ”
Owen’s character, who is simply called Mr. Smith throughout the film, even eats a steady supply of carrots, which he keeps in his jacket pocket. As Bugs himself might have said, “Ain’t he a stinker?”
“It seemed to make sense that he needed his eyes to be sharp for shooting,” Davis joked about the quirk he gave Mr. Smith. “In the movie, they actually say carrots are good for the eyes. It plays into it.”
As was clear from being in the room with him, Davis is the perfect director for this kind of frenzied action. Hyperkinetic, his arms waving frantically as his voice squeaked with excitement, Davis wasn’t still the entire hour he held court, his explanations long and uninterrupted. It’s a high-energy perspective he said he wanted to capture in the film.
“In a lot of the gunfights you see in the movies, they have heroes crouching behind barriers and then springing out and firing, and that’s all great. But I wanted to do a gunfight where the guy was entirely on the run, [always] in motion, never [stopping],” he said. “I want to be the hero. When the guy’s tumbling around, being an acrobat and a human bullet, that makes me feel like I’m the hero because it’s so fast. I’m feeling what the hero’s feeling.”
The carrots, the contortions, the cacophony of carnage — all the winks and nods add to what Davis says has been missing from most modern action flicks: the fun.
“Paul’s [character is] always philosophizing about how he should do his job. He ends up walking [into a stairwell that Mr. Smith might be behind], and he looks up and says, ‘Violence is one of the most fun things to watch,’ ” Davis said. “And I think he is acknowledging that this movie is fun to watch.”
“Shoot ‘Em Up” opens September 7.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Shoot ‘Em Up.”
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