I May Never Eat Another Carrot In My Life.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” is like watching a live action graphic novel. A fun movie, it is very violent and filled with some memorable lines. Nice turns by Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti almost make the completely excruciating performance by Monica Bellucci forgivable. The film doesn’t have the visual style of other graphic novel adaptations, but it is fun nonetheless.
A tall, unshaven man wearing a black leather overcoat (Clive Owen) sits on a bus bench eating a carrot. He watches a pregnant woman run by, clutching her stomach. Then, a car filled with gun toting men barrels around the corner. “Mr. Smith” realizes the woman is in trouble and hurries to her aid. He rushes the woman into an abandoned warehouse and tries to comfort the new mother as she gives birth. Complicating matters are the numerous men with guns who don’t care about the impending birth and want to kill the woman. Mr. Smith has to aid the new mother as he tries to protect her. Hertz (Paul Giamatti), the leader of the bad guys, is a little puzzled; he doesn’t know who Smith is, or why he gets involved. The woman dies shortly after giving birth and Smith realizes he now has to care for the baby. But Hertz and his men are in pursuit, so Smith looks for help. He turns to a hooker named Donna (Monica Bellucci) who has recently given birth. Smith has to protect the baby and Donna and figure out why Hertz is so intent on getting the child.
I mentioned earlier that watching “Shoot” is like watching a live-action graphic novel. This is a growing trend, basing films on graphic novels, allowing filmmakers to delve into unusual, strange stories, stories that would never see the light of day in a more conventional filmmaker’s universe. This growing subgenre of film has brought us a number of highly visual, very interesting films. Films like “Sin City” and “300” shot the characters against green screen, adding backgrounds later, giving the films an even greater graphic novel style. And these films are pretty magnificent. Graphic novels have also greatly influenced other films. “Batman Begins” was based on the work of Frank Miller, who also created “Sin City” and “300”, giving the superhero a darker edge and making him more interesting. “Shoot ‘Em Up” has some of these similar elements, but the environment is not nearly as interesting. The film is set in a run down metropolis, a common setting for this type of story, but it looks like a set someone went through and added some elements to, to amp up the ‘weird’ factor. The visual style is no where near as interesting or complete as “Sin City”.
Interestingly, Clive Owen appears in both playing a similar character. In “Shoot ‘Em Up”, ‘Smith” is not as well defined as Dwight, his character in “Sin City”, or as interesting, but he is fun to watch. Taking on elements of Clint Eastwood’s famous cowboy persona, The Man with No Name, Owen’s character simply becomes known as “Smith”. Throughout, we learn little bits about him and Kurtz even gives us a few facts he either learned or gleamed from his dealings with the reluctant hero.
From the first moment we see him, sitting on a bus stop bench, at night, in the middle of a run down metropolis; we know Smith is probably not going to win any citizenship awards. I instantly got the feeling he was living off the grid, supported by a visit to his home later in the film. Smith lives in an abandoned warehouse complete with his own indoor garden, filled with carrots ripe for the plucking, and eating. “Good for the eyesight” he states, when Donna looks at him strangely.
Smith is also a reluctant hero. He watches the pregnant woman run down the street and then the car full of gun toting men. He sighs, gets up and gets involved. After she dies, he initially wants to leave the baby, but decides he can’t. This reluctance adds some interest to his character. As he becomes further entwined in the story, his curiosity takes over. As Kurtz becomes more persistent, this serves to make Smith more hell bent on revenge. These moments help to make Smith a more interesting character; even though he inhabits a cartoon universe, he seems to have some real feelings and emotions.
It is interesting to watch Paul Giamatti play a villain. It is a nice change for this actor who gained a lot of critical praise for his work in “Sideways”. Kurtz is not your normal villain; he is evil and hell bent on achieving his goal, but he also appears to be a more typical man. Yes, he has a gun in his hand, but without this deadly weapon, he could just as easily be mistaken for a librarian, creating one of the more interesting villains to come along in some time.
Kurtz also has some moments of levity; his wife constantly calls on his cell phone, apparently unaware of her husband’s true occupation. At moments, he wonders out loud how Smith could be giving them so much trouble. These elements help to make Giamatti’s Kurtz seem vulnerable, less scary, yet when he speaks, gritting his teeth, we understand how deadly he can be. This is a villain who is equally at home spraying bullets across a room as he is trying to problem solving, and figuring things out.
When the film was over, my companion commented that if you took all of the dialogue in the film it would probably only fill ten pages. She is completely true. Unfortunately Monica Bellucci still has a considerable amount of dialogue in the film. Bellucci has an extremely heavy accent, making most of what she says difficult to understand. That, and the fact that she isn’t a good actress, makes it difficult to watch her on any level. Sure, she’s very pretty, but there are many very pretty actresses in Hollywood who can at least act a little and would have done a better job in this role. Throughout the film, she frequently says “Smith” and even this simple line seems to perplex her.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” certainly delivers on the action. From the initial confrontation in the abandoned warehouse, where Smith quickly secures a gun, he is never without a pistol for long. And when he doesn’t have a sidearm, he finds other items to help him ward off the villains. Smith gets into many tough scrapes and finds some ingenious ways to get out of the situation. With each confrontation, the stakes are raised along with the danger; and the elaborate stunts Smith pulls to get out of these scrapes escalates until you think it can’t possibly go any further. But it does. You keep expecting the next confrontation to be a little more normal, but they just keep getting more outlandish. Watching the action in “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a little like riding a roller coaster, with bullets flying overhead.
But I can’t really describe any of this, because it would spoil the fun of watching it yourself.
As good as the action is, it is also over the top and cartoony. I suspect it is intended as a parody of action violence; Smith’s constant chewing on carrots leads Kurtz to spout an Elmer Fudd line drawing an obvious comparison. It’s a funny moment, but I’m not sure the film works on this level. The over the top gross elements take it to a different plane.
The story? The story is as cartoony and outlandish as the rest of the film. As we watch, it continues to become more outrageous. Who cares. I’m not going to a film called “Shoot ‘Em Up” looking for an Academy Award caliber performance. The story is supposed to be silly.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” is not a perfect film. There are a few too many over the top gross elements as well. And every time Monica Bellucci appears on screen, I felt like ripping my ears out. But the Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are fun and the action is over the top. I guarantee that you have never seen some of these action scenes.
My companion commented that she felt maybe Owen was trying to prove that he would have made a good James Bond. He certainly has the chops to carry an action film.