Stubbly, rumpled and even more charismatically sour than usual, Clive Owen is Mr. Smith, the world’s angriest man. Also one of the more heavily armed. Although not as massively strapped as his schlubby nemesis, Hertz (Paul Giamatti), who, along with an especially pathetic comb-over, is also equipped with a chrome-plated automatic the size of a DustBuster and a gang of black-clad goons, 50 strong, who are eager to do his vicious bidding at the flick of a safety catch.
Smith doesn’t go looking for trouble. It seeks him out, buys him a beer, breaks the bottle over his head. Here he is, minding his own business, munching a carrot, when a pregnant woman runs by, pursued by a knife-wielding thug yelling, “You’re gonna get your C-section!” What can you do? Smith intervenes, of course, dispatches the assailant, and then, when the woman — wouldn’t you know it? — goes into labor, he has no choice but to deliver the baby. And no sooner has he blown off its umbilical cord with a blast from his outsized gat than Hertz’s gun-happy minions come bursting onto the scene in full blaze. Smith, really annoyed now, starts mowing them down, spent shells from his chattering hand-cannon raining down on the gurgling infant. Finally, having reduced the attackers to ground chuck, he grabs the woman and the kid and gets out of there. Another very bad day for Smith, and it’s only just begun.
Writer and director Michael Davis’ new film asks the question, “What would happen if you took your average action-movie mayhem-a-thon, eliminated all the boring parts (like motivation and character development) and then just called it what it is: ’Shoot ’Em Up’ “? It’s a funny idea, even if it’s already been done to some extent (most recently by “Hot Fuzz”), and even if the genre has been satirizing itself for years now. Davis still comes up with some giddily appalling twists. When the new mom Smith has just saved gets greased, he sticks her baby in a paper bag and takes it to his friend Donna (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute who specializes in sexual infantilism — and thus has a copious supply of diapers and baby bottles on hand. And when Donna starts getting guff from a big freak in a heavy-metal club, she just reaches down and yanks out his crotch piercing. And although the miscreant Hertz clearly has a non-heinous side (he keeps getting mid-slaughter cell-phone calls from his wife wondering if he’ll be home in time for little Timmy’s birthday party), when he finds himself alone in the back of a car with a dead woman’s corpse, he can’t resist fondling her bare, lifeless breast.
Casting Giamatti as the depraved Hertz turns out to be not quite as subversively entertaining as you might expect (the funniest thing about it is that he signed on for the role). But Owen is always fun to watch (who knew that carrots could kill?), and Bellucci has a sort of maternal sexiness that plays well against his crusty charm. (The two of them almost have a sex scene at one point — but then the goons come barreling in again, and the mood, as you’d imagine, passes.)
The movie also has a lot of great stunts — some really virtuosic leaping-and-shooting and sliding-and-shooting and even parachuting-and-shooting; and they gain extra oomph from Davis’ wise decision to pare the film down to a taut and gasping 87 minutes. It’s the perfect answer to that question posed above:
all killer(s), no filler.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Shoot ’Em Up.”
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