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Talk about action packed. Straight from the get go, Shoot ‘Em Up puts the pedal to the floor and never lets up. The opening sequence is quite the setpiece for ushering the audience directly into the film, enhanced beautifully by Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief”. Our hero Smith is sitting on a park bench, eating a carrot, when he sees a pregnant woman being chased down the street by a murderous gentleman. Smith begrudgingly follows to be of help and unwittingly becomes involved in a government conspiracy laced with hitmen ready to kill anything put in their eyesight. Fortunately for him, Smith is quite the crackshot himself, with brains and swagger to boot. I must say I loved the nonstop action and generally enjoyed the quips thrown by Clive Owen, as our lead, with acerbic wit. In most cases, my enjoyment level would supercede any lack of intelligent story or impossible moments that defy logic, but here, there are a lot of those bad instances to need to forgive. For every glorious fight sequence with smart dialogue comes a blatantly fake procession with cringingly horrid jokes that don’t even get off the ground let alone fall flat.

I was with the film for a long while, loving the carrots, the cat and mouse rapport between Owen and Paul Giamatti’s villain, and the cynical tidbits on life and the society that lives it. Unfortunately, while the action never let up, the freshness and originality did. Killing a man by stabbing him with a home grown carrot is funny the first time, but by the third you start to think if writer Michael Davis thought the idea so funny he cracked himself up by using it over and over again. Then comes Giamatti, whom I hold in high regard, with a performance that is so one-note you have to imagine anyone could have done the role justice. Relegated to one-liners expressing the shock of getting beat again, along with way too many Bugs Bunny references, (I did like the ongoing phone tag with his wife), he is wasted about eighty percent of the time. Now if this critique were to continue in list form, I would be saying how the “you know what I hate” soliloquies finally hit the wall and faltered. However, that is the one thing I never grew tired of. Maybe it was because I thought everything he said was spot-on, but I could have watched him getting back at lazy, wealthy folk for the entire duration.

It’s a shame because I think Davis showed some real nice flare for action. Maybe if he could get a script with a bit more meat to it, he could have a real winner on his hands. As of now, this film shows he can do stunts, but not all the other “little things” that are needed for a film to be a success. One of those things is getting a performance from his actors. It feels more like he let all those involved run free while focusing on the sets. Giamatti just has fun and hams it up as much as he can, the never ceasing onslaught of expendable bad guys are either odd looking toughs falling into every cliché imaginable or secret service men doing their best Agent Smith imitation, and Monica Bellucci shows that being gorgeous can’t do it all. Bellucci is a fantastic actress, however, she is used here with a slow, methodical speech pattern. It ends up making the accent even more apparent while also causing her to be stiff and calculating as though following a metered pattern, needing every word to be articulated and on time.

Only Clive Owen truly succeeds as a performer. The guy is good and shows it here as he vaults a one-dimensional character into something interesting to watch. We know nothing about Mr. Smith and never actually learn anything either. Even so, Owen keeps enough bottled inside to show that there is a reason for what he is doing, excelling at the sarcasm and attitude I loved about Smith. What I anticipated as a role to help express what he could have done as Bond ended up being something completely different. We get the cool calm of 007 mixed with the hyper-kinetic frenzy of The Transporter. It is an interesting mix, but orchestrated to perfection by Owen.

Again, this is not a movie that one goes to for intelligent discourse. All those boring parts full of exposition and dialogue bridging the gaps in most action movies, helping to disguise them as heady cinema, are stripped completely away. We go from one explosion to another—gunfights at every turn—with our only plot driven language spit out between gunshots. Much can be appreciated here and hopefully this will serve as a stepping-stone for better work from its director, but on the whole, there is just too much fluff. Fighting while a naked woman is still coiled around you or while holding a baby goes just a bit too far from reality for my tastes. I couldn’t help but find myself rolling my eyes at how everything gets amped up by becoming even more unbelievable. When we are treated to a way too long fight while plummeting down from an airplane, I finally shut off my brain and decided to just see how it all was going to ultimately end, no longer expecting the story to redeem itself.

Shoot ‘Em Up 5/10

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photography:
[1] Clive Owen stars as “Mr. Smith” in New Line Cinema’s action thriller SHOOT ‘EM UP. Photo Credit: James Dittiger/New Line Cinema
[2] Paul Giamatti stars as “Mr. Hertz” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release, SHOOT ‘EM UP. Photo Credit: ©2007 James Dittiger/New Line Cinema

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