A film review by Craig J. Koban





2007, R, 86 mins.

Mr. Smith: Clive Owen / Mr. Hertz: Paul Giamatti / DQ: Monica Bellucci / Senator Rutledge: Daniel Pilon / The Lone Man: Greg Bryk

Written and directed by Michael Davis

If one scene alone sums up my viewing experience with SHOOT ‘EM UP then it would be the moment where one of the bad guys takes a feces-filled diaper and shoves it in another man’s face. 

I felt as if the whole film was doing that to me.   

SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of incessantly implausible, inanely exploitive, and nauseatingly wretched action film that has to be seen to be believed.  Honest.  Just consider its opening scene. 

It involves all of the following elements, and in no particular order: a pregnant woman given birth; a bunch of armed assailants in hot pursuit of her; a lone man with no name figure that manages to gun down most of the baddies, at one point utilizing everything from motor oil to a carrot to do so.  Oh, he also manages to assist the mother give birth to her child.  He has one hand on his gun and shoots anything around him that moves, whereas his other hand is…well…you know.  Finally, the icing on the cake to this introduction is the sickening manner with which the “hero” manages to remove the baby’s umbilical cord.  Considering everything that I witnessed in SHOOT ‘EM UP’s first few minutes, I was really, really worried that the “hero” would also perform a circumcision with his semi-automatic pistol.  Thankfully, I was spared of such an incident happening. 

My description of the beginning of SHOOT’ EM UP only barely scratches this film’s surface.  This has to be one of the most outrageously violent and chaotically over-the-top films that I have ever seen.  Should that be construed as a vile criticism of it or a tongue-in-cheek compliment?  Well, after sitting through the film’s utter onslaught of depravity and violence, I believe that I strongly follow the former sentiment.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is a wasteful and remarkably soulless action spectacle that left a real sour taste in my mouth.  Very few genre films like this have made me feel so totally empty.  When I exited the theatre I felt the need to pull a stranger aside that I passed on the street just for a little bit of human contact and conversation, perhaps to ground myself back to reality.   

There is just something so puerile, nasty, and repulsive about this whole enterprise.  I not sure that it is the violence in it, per se, but how it uses violence to get cheap, infantile laughs.  I have been a remarkably liberal minded person when it comes to movie gore, so I don’t entirely think that it is the number of bodies that are left in this film’s wake that turned me off to it.  No, I think that it is the film’s wanton, almost sadomasochistic, fondness and appreciation for endless carnage that made me ill at ease.  I have seen countless violent films in my time, but this perhaps is the first one that has prompted me to use the term “gratuitous” in a review.  Readers, please take me to task if I have already done so. 

SHOOT ‘EM UP is tawdry pornography that substitutes gun violence for explicit sex...but then again, one moment in the film nearly combines both.  It’s offensive not for its cruelty and savagery with its images and action sequences, but rather in the way it sort of holds them all up for hero worship.  I recall hearing many patrons in the theatre hoot and laugh at the sheer ludicrousness and level of violence in the film.  Certainly, SHOOT ‘EM UP is in no way framed in any sort of earthbound reality (this is the type of film that takes stupendous leaps of logic with its stunts and mayhem), but there is something disturbing with the way some found cheerful entertainment value in the ways its hero kills other people.  I will give the film props for ingenuity in coming up with new and inventive ways for murder (a carrot will never, ever be looked at in the same manner again), but SHOOT ‘EM UP is nothing but a two minute action trailer spread out over 86 minutes.  Everything else in the film is superfluous.  Sure, the film keeps a strong forward momentum of bloody and gory barbarism, but beyond that there is nothing really to recommend it on.   

I dunno.  Does this film think its hip, cool, and irreverent?  Most certainly, but it is nowhere near as clever and acerbic as it thinks it is.  Other trashy films with violent, excessive flourishes never made the bloodshed their main attraction.  The same can’t be said for SHOOT ‘EM UP; this is like a pulpy Quentin Tarantino work minus all forms of intelligence and wit.  The dialogue in SHOOT ‘EM UP is so outrageously wretched that I found myself neither laughing at or with it, the characters are so unsavory and unreservedly cruel and viscous that you never once invest in them, and underlining story is so unabashedly ill-conceived and mind-boggling that you have to wonder whether or not it was the product of a hundred monkeys collective typing away on a hundred PCs.  This is perhaps the first film that involves a conspiracy involving a dirty and unscrupulous politician that is trying to make a bid for the White House and a secret, underground fertility clinic that harvests babies for a rare type of bone marrow.   No…seriously.  The plot is a silly and absurd as the film’s unrelenting murder spree.   

Perhaps worst of all is the talent that is wasted.  We first get Clive Owen, one of our finest actors, who is reduced to playing a monosyllabic hero that goes by the name of Mr. Smith and lashes out with beyond-lame one-liners that would even make James Bond's stomach churn.  He is a bum with no home or family, but make no mistake about it, when he gets a gun in his hand…or a carrot…he is one of the most dangerous bums on the planet.  As the film opens he miraculously saves a newborn baby from the hands of its dead mother.  Of course, Smith is not a remorseful, stone cold killer without a conscience.  He takes the baby and tries to find the most suitable environment for its safety: a S&M whorehouse that has prostitutes dressed as nuns.  While there he meets up with an old flame, DQ (Monica Bellucci) whose name is an acronym for "Dairy Queen", which is quite apt for her considering that she allows her customers to guzzle milk right from her…uh…yeah...use your imagination. 

Anyhoo’, it seems that one nasty piece of work really – and I mean really – wants this baby dead.  He is Mr. Hertz (played by Paul Giamatti like he was just the victim of an all night bender of cigarettes, speed, and crystal meth), and he is the kind of foul, repugnant, and reprehensible creature that is not too sick to…say…feel up a dead woman’s breasts, which he does at one point.  Hertz meets ups with DQ, who is almost sexually violated by his smoking gun pistol until Smith turns up to save the day.  After a narrow escape from Hertz and his cronies, DQ, Smith, and the baby seek shelter and time to regroup to plot their next action.  What they uncover is a vast governmental cover up, which culminates in a barrage of gun fights, often involving Smith battling an unspeakable number of evil henchman. 

The baby in the film has to be the most resilient baby in the history of the movies.  He survives halos of bullets, multiple car accidents, fires, and explosions, often at the same time.  He's death proof.  That fact that it does not die within seconds after child birth is startling in itself, but watching endless scenes involving Owen clutching the baby like a football while evading gunfire and leaping through windows grows considerably tiring.  Surely, the first few instances are kind of giggle inducing, seeing as there is no way a new born baby could survive the battlefield that he goes through with Smith (in one cute moment, DQ fits the baby with a bullet proof vest).  After awhile, you just really tune out.  It becomes so obvious that the baby is either a puppet or a CG creation that your investment is gone completely.

These action scenes are also never once thrilling or exciting: they’re all voyeuristic spectacle.   Now, it could be said that this is the point of a film called SHOOT ‘EM UP, which - according to wikipedia.org - "takes its name from the style of arcade game that involves a player controlling a vehicle or character that fights large numbers of enemies with shooting attacks, usually of a highly stylized nature."  On that very basic level, SHOOT ‘EM UP unquestionably delivers and is true to form.  Beyond that, it has not one other redeeming quality.  It is purely exists to be indecent and nihilistically crude and vulgar.  The heartlessness and cruelty displayed in the film is nerve-wracking because of the way it thinks that reckless and irresponsible levels of brutality equals sophistication and refinement.  It's smugness with the material is borderline sanctimonious.

The film’s rigid self-awareness is off-putting.  The director, Michael Davis, definitely thinks his material is a sly and smart send up of the action genre, but what is he really sending up?  Other tastelessly bad action films?  That's like the coffee calling the kettle black.  There surely is ambition with his handling of the action material; he put together a 17 minute reel of animation consisting if 17,000 line drawings showcasing the film’s action scenes to help sell the movie to studio execs, but not one of them had the foresight to ask whether or not the film would have anything else to offer.   We get a hell of a lot of bang-bang, scenery chewing moments of sheer, video game influenced depravity, but not much else.  When the action is not Herculean in its incredulousness, then it is remorsefully punctuated by a slew of some of the worst dead panned lines of recent memory, the kind that hope to become pop culture catch phrases if they weren’t so drop-dead terrible.  Some of my personal favourites include “I’m lactose intolerant” (when Smith has an opportunity to suck on a woman’s breast) and “He just blew his load” (after a man got shot with his own gun) and “Talk about a hand job” (after Smith uses a severed hand to assist him with shooting a gun that requires that hand’s thumb print identification to use it). 


For a film to receive my dreaded "zero star" rating, it usually has to follow one of two self-imposed guidelines: (1) It either is a complete an utter failure on an artistic level or  (2) it treats its content in a morally deplorable manner.  SHOOT 'EM UP certainly is not a failure on an artistic level (the film has polish), but on the other criteria it almost certainly adheres to.  I don’t how else to sum up my feelings for it other than to say that I found it to be a tortuous and teeth grating experience at the movies...and that I hated it.  Really hated it. 

I hated it for is wasteful and reckless misuse of Oscar nominated talent like Giamatti and Owen.  I hated it for the way sacrifices good taste and subs in depravity and nauseating excess, which it thinks is cutting edge and really cool.  I hated it for the how smug and self-deprecating it was.  I hated it for the way it never allowed me to find joyous and uplifting escape in all of its set pieces.  I have enjoyed mindless violence before (COMMANDO, anyone?), but SHOOT ‘EM UP is not even good, sick entertainment.  As stated earlier, it’s a two-minute highlight reel of non-stop, bloodletting gun battles spread out over a needlessly long 86-minute running time.  On one positive, the film certainly offers up interesting ways to kill human beings with guns and carrots.  But, if you look beyond its maniacal overkill with its action scenes, then SHOOT ‘EM UP is a regrettably ugly film to sit through; it’s a dreary, depraved, and ludicrously sadistic video game crossed with a heavy metal video trapped in a movie’s body.   Yet, when I grow tired of a video game or disposable MTV videos, I can turn them off relatively easily. 

I couldn’t do that with SHOOT ‘EM UP.  It's the type of film that should automatically come with a reset button.

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