If you can't tell from the title what this film is about, you're in trouble.
Yes, 2007's "Shoot 'Em Up" is an action comedy; or, more precisely, a parody of an action thriller, since the laughs are rather incidental. And having a good, handsome, rugged action hero like Clive Owen to play the lead is helpful, too.
The problem is that other filmmakers have already done this kind of parody before and done it better. That doesn't necessarily make "Shoot 'Em Up" a bad movie, just a tired one. I mean, Clive Owen was already in Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City" playing the same sort of laconic, film-noir character he plays here, and "Sin City" was a better movie. Therefore, "Shoot 'Em Up" seems like a retread, with Owen and the nonstop violence its only redeeming factors. Still, I'm sure for many viewers that will be enough. For me, it was not.
Filmmaker Michael Davis ("100 Girls," "Monster Man") wrote and directed "Shoot 'Em Up," apparently having seen too many "Pulp Fiction" clones and figuring he could top them. The only "top" we get is as in "over-the-top," because surely a little shooting and chasing goes a long way. When it's extended to an hour and a half, it becomes overkill, if you'll pardon the expression.
Even the New Line logo at the movie's start-up gets shot to bits, a portent of things to come and a tongue-in-cheek suggestion not to take any of what follows seriously. Then we see Clive Owen as Mr. Smith, tough guy supreme, sitting at a bus stop crunching a carrot with authority, and we know he means business. I suspect Davis intended the carrot to remind us of Bugs Bunny and the cartoon violence of the old Looney Tunes shorts, the kind of comic tone projected by this picture.
A pregnant woman suddenly runs by, pursued by a hoodlum with a gun. Reluctantly, our hero goes to the rescue and uses the carrot to advantage. But the hood isn't alone. A half dozen armed thugs immediately show up, and a gun battle ensues. So the movie begins with bullets flying and loud, raucous music blaring, and it hardly lets up for the rest of the story.
Now, I admit the opening gun battle is stylistic and clever, not terribly exciting but fun to watch. If only the film had slowed down for a breather, it might have even pulled me in. But, no. The movie's kinetic energy never lets up, the cameras swirling and jumping around endlessly. Smith helps the pregnant woman deliver her baby amid a barrage of gunfire, with blood spurting in all directions.
The woman dies, leaving Smith holding the sack, er, baby. What to do? He winds up trying to protect the newborn kid from a small army of baddies headed by a Mr. Hertz, played against type by Paul Giamatti. Like all good villains, Giamatti's bad guy is hard to keep down. Why Hertz wants to kill the child is beside the point. Nothing in the film makes any sense, so don't even try to figure it out. Writer/director Davis means everything as satiric entertainment, a serious spoof of other action movies. But what's a serious spoof when most action movies are themselves silly and exaggerated?
The only other character of interest is the required romantic interest. In a true film noir, she would be a femme fatale, but here she is more straightforward than that. There is little subtlety in "Shoot 'Em Up." Anyway, she's Donna Quintana (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold, whom Smith enlists to help him with the baby. Together, Smith and his friend run, shoot, and scoot hither and yon, first to avoid Hertz and his henchmen and then to go to the heart of the matter and discover why Hertz is so intent on killing this child.
While the movie is mainly about action, it admits some humorous lines along the way, sort of in the manner of a typical Bond flick. For instance, Mr. Hertz, the ruthless assassin, is forever on the cell phone with his wife and at one point turns to a goon and asks, "You know why a gun is better than a wife? You can put a silencer on a gun." Needless to say, Smith has his own share of zingers as well. He describes himself as "a British nanny, and I'm dangerous." And his door key is a mouse. A live mouse. Don't ask. His nemesis describes him as "a man with no name riding into town on a pale horse dispensing his own brand of justice." I guess Smith is really Clint Eastwood in disguise.
But mostly, as I say, "Shoot 'Em Up" is just action. In one scene it's virtually a shooting gallery, with Smith knocking off baddies as fast as they appear and the bodies literally piling up. OK, so writer/director Davis means for his movie to be preposterous and to get more preposterous as it goes along; I understand that, and there's nothing wrong with it. But he needed to add a little variety as well, to add spice to what is essentially just one long chase sequence that becomes much too monotonous much too soon.
The video transfer is OK, but the original source material is a bit odd. New Line retain the movie's theatrical-release aspect ratio, 2.35:1, in addition to the movie's bizarre color palette. As with many of today's action-movie directors, Michael Davis gives this one a peculiar tint, in this case greenish-yellow. So even though the movie is in color, you'll find a hint of old-timeyness in it, too, as well as a lurid atmosphere. Later, the tints turn to the reddish, so the color schemes vary.
There is also a touch of grain that actually adds to the film's gritty realism, again to the good. However, the definition is only average at best, and there is always a soft blur present. Although what we get in the way of video quality is probably close to what moviegoers saw in theaters, you have to make allowances for the director's decision not to go with a conventional presentation.
Three audio choices: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Digital 2.0, and DTS-ES 6.1. The DD 5.1 sounded splendid, very dynamic, very robust, especially in the bass and lower midrange. Also, it's very, very loud most of the time, with a pounding beat that makes one grab for the volume control on any number of occasions. What's more, there is an excellent use of the surrounds, particularly during the many gunfights when bullets whiz and ricochet in all directions around the listening area.
New Line provide an uncommonly large list of supplemental materials on this disc, which makes it worthwhile if only for the behind-the-scenes stuff. First, of course, is the obligatory audio commentary from the writer and director Michael Davis. Following that are nine deleted or alternate scenes, about eight minutes' worth, again with an optional commentary from the director. After that is one of the most comprehensive documentaries I've seen on a thriller such as this one. It's called "Ballet of Bullets--Making Shoot 'Em Up," it's divided into five chapters, and it lasts fifty-two minutes. Then to conclude the main extras, there is a segment on scene animatics, seventeen chapters with optional director commentary, some twenty minutes in all, showing us the animated storyboards for parts of the film.
Things conclude with sixteen scene selections but no chapter insert, just a promotional flyer; three theatrical trailers; Sneak Peeks at several other New Line releases; English as the only spoken language; English and Spanish subtitles; and an embossed slipcover.
Clive Owen is terrific as the hard-boiled Mr. Smith, and Paul Giamatti makes an acceptably sadistic miscreant. If only the rest of the picture had reached these heights, we might have had something. Instead, "Shoot 'Em Up" is largely a one-note (though certainly not a one-shot) picture, a long, continuous chase with no respite in sight. Too much of a good thing, I'd say.