A scene near the beginning of Shoot 'Em Up features Clive Owen's character trying to find a way to kill as many people in the room as possible -- so he shoots a can of oil, which pools heavily on the concrete floor, then leaps into the pool of oil and sliiiiides across the room, gunning down bad guys all the way. The scene is representative of Shoot 'Em Up as a whole: improbable things, even dumb things occur, but the movie just glides along, moving quickly and almost effortlessly, going for the next target and the next, while keeping you occupied for 90 minutes. Writer-director Michael Davis has delivered the smartest stupid movie I've seen this year.
One thing you cannot deny about Shoot 'Em Up is that it lives up to its title. Watching this movie feels more like you're watching a beautifully rendered videogame played by a master. Owen stars as the enigmatic Mr. Smith, who is sitting at a bus stop when he notices a pregnant woman being pursued by a disreputable character or two. He reluctantly interferes, and ultimately finds himself saddled with a newborn baby that the nasty Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) is determined to kill. He tries to persuade a lactating hooker (Monica Bellucci) to help care for the baby while he finds a safe place for them all, but Hertz is ruthless.
The plot takes a backseat to the action scenes, though, with the occasional chase scene for good measure. Owen's badass Smith and Giamatti's repellent badguy Hertz rack up a body count that is probably greater than that in all of the films I've seen this year put together. The "sliding" trick I mentioned earlier is repeated frequently, because nothing looks cooler than a guy sliding across a floor, or a countertop, or under a table, and blowing away as many adversaries as possible. Gunfights occur in a bordello, in a weapons factory, on a plane, in midair (parachutes are involved) and in flagrante delicto, during one of the most repulsively fanboy-ish sex scenes I have ever encountered. The violence is generally cartoonish and includes a lot of dismembered body parts.
The action scenes are punctuated with dumb one-liners and obvious humor, often related to Smith's quirk of continually eating raw carrots (because they're good for your eyesight). The jokes aren't the type that you can quote or recount afterwards, because they're terribly lame, but in the context of the over-the-top action scenes they work, and you do end up being amused. Shoot 'Em Up contains horribly cliched dialogue, misogyny, illogical plot twists, inconsistent characterizations and some ridiculous climactic scenes ... but it zips along at a fast but not whirlwind pace. Giamatti's delightfully sleazy badguy and Owen's deadpan antihero are each fun to watch in their own way. Seeing Owen toting around a baby (not to mention assisting with its birth) made me wish a little that I were watching Children of Men again instead, but the two movies have nothing else in common -- this is a movie that discourages analysis and works only on the most superficial level.
Shoot 'Em Up may be my guilty pleasure film for this year. I am almost ashamed to have liked a film that is little more than gun-heavy action scenes strung together with the dumbest plot ever, and yet I was entertained even when I was rolling my eyes at the inane humor and the sexism and the overall stupidity. It's a tough film to quantify in a review -- I told my husband when I got home from the screening, "It was terrible, but I had a good time watching it." At least this dumb movie held my interest, unlike other August/September releases I've seen. If you like watching a lot of people shoot and get shot in a variety of ways, see this movie in a theater so you won't miss a single detail.