In this deliriously over-the-top masterpiece of outrageously clever mayhem, star Clive Owen is an unstoppable good-guy gunman who is given to asking the question "you know what I hate?" immediately before letting all hell break loose.
You know what I hate? Dishonest, hypocritical reviewers like the one sitting two seats away from me at the "Shoot 'Em Up" screening I attended. Although he made amused grunts and other appreciative noises during the deliciously inventive stunts, laughed out loud at the jokes, gasped and groaned at all the right gasp-and-groan-worthy places, and generally appeared to be having a grand old time, he said afterward that he didn't like the movie.
What the hell is wrong with critics like that? Are they afraid the art-house crowd won't take them seriously if they express appreciation for a film in which a newborn's umbilical cord is cut with a gunshot, or a thug gets killed by having a carrot shoved in his mouth and out the back of his head? What, you mean Bergman or Antonioni never filmed a lactating hooker tearing out a ring from a Marilyn Manson lookalike's "personal area" to convince him to talk?
Although the posters for "Shoot 'Em Up" resemble Frank Miller comic-book drawings come to life, the actual movie has more in common with the work of another comic-book great: Garth Ennis, writer of such jaw-droppingly hyper-violent heroes as Marvel's the Punisher. (Although the awful 2004 "Punisher" movie included some supporting characters and plot points that originated with Ennis, it lacked anything resembling his very dark yet fiercely entertaining style. The guy definitely has a way of making vigilantes and their dangerous toys fascinating.)
Owen plays Mr. Smith -- and that's probably not his real name -- a guy who is simply waiting for a bus when he gets drawn into one of the wildest, most crazy-violent action opening scenes of all time. By the time the bullets stop flying, Smith is on the run with a complete stranger's targeted-for-death baby and one hell of a lot of questions.
Smith enlists a kinky "got milk" hooker (Monica Bellucci) to wet-nurse the infant. Despite some tough talk, she turns out to be more placidly sensual and maternal than kick-ass tomboy, which makes for a nice change in this kind of movie.
Meanwhile, a sadistically evil genius appropriately named Hertz (Paul Giamatti) dogs their trail with a never-ending army of hired killers and, yes, a couple of dogs. Giamatti scores as this badass with brains, who is shocked and hilariously furious about how Smith & Company keep managing to survive. "Do we suck this bad," he says at one point, "or is this guy really that good?"
Writer/director Michael Davis has loaded the film with one unforgettably imaginative image after another: spent shell casings bouncing off a pregnant woman's stomach, a gun dropping in an unflushed toilet, a hand with bullets between the fingers shoved into a fireplace as an improvised weapon. There are showdowns, standoffs, car chases, airborne gun battles and even a shootout in a firearms factory.
Best of all, the screenplay manages to both glorify in and yet subvert some of the things you'll be expecting. For example, it's a mega-body-count, blizzard-of-bullets barrage that's actually a plea for gun control at heart. Seriously. Also, although it has scenes referencing bits from movies as diverse as "Lost Highway," "The Transporter" and even "Raising Arizona" (how's that for range?), it still feels fresh and original.
And there's one perfectly done little scene that's so poignant you may actually find yourself tearing up. Don't worry, though -- a hail of gunfire follows very shortly thereafter. Heck, a hail of gunfire follows shortly after EVERYTHING in this movie, usually including other hails of gunfire!
I can't wait to see what relative newcomer Michael Davis does for his next movie, but it will be hard for him to top this one. "Shoot 'Em Up" is a flat-out joy to watch. When it was over, the first thing I said was, "I want to see this movie again RIGHT NOW!" It's that good!