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Monday, August 4, 2008

Movie Review: Shoot 'Em Up Proves There's Truth in Advertising

Review By Noah Mallin

Clive Owen has a deep honking voice that’s like Alan Rickman with a headcold. In Michael Davis' giddily hyperviolent Shoot ‘Em Up it’s used primarily to deliver the kind of bon mots found in a mid 80s Schwarzenegger vehicle , but no matter. The filmmakers, star, and probably the hair and makeup people are well aware of this. In fact, hyper self-awareness is the hallmark of this film – a cynical discourse about cynicism in which everything save a giant winking eye is deployed as a tipoff that all involved are in on it. On a certain level this is a much more committed spoof on a typical Michael Bay flick starring say, Nicholas Cage, than Team America was.

The set-up is absurdity as meta-narrative, with carrot-munching hitman Owen (resemblance to Bugs Bunny is purely intentional) and lactating hooker (don't ask) Asia Argento (untroubled by much in the way of acting chops) becoming surrogate mum and dad to a baby wanted by an anti-gun Democratic Presidential candidate for it’s life-giving bone-marrow. With me so far?

The pro-gun folks want the baby dead so that they can stop the anti-gun folks from gaining power and they’ve hired a scenery demolishing (in every way) Paul Giametti to lead an endless serious of counter-hitmen against baby and quasi –parental units.

The filmmakers fully revel in the incongruity of an ultra violent Hong Kong style shootout flick which purports to be in favor of gun control. It helps that the pacing and editing keep everything moving at a good, ahem, clip, so just as you’re saying “Oh, C’mon!” Another absurdly balletic feat of pistolry unfolds before your eyes. Unlike a typical Jerry Bruckheimer/ Michael Bay crapfest it’s also possible to discern who is shooting who and where in every scene.

As the setpieces mount (an aerial sequence with parachute wearing assassins is one of several highlights, as is a demonstration of the proper time to unbuckle your seatbelt in a collision) so does admiration for the sheer balls it takes to see this giddy farce through to its conclusion.

Tonally there is a sweet tang of mid 80s b-movies such as John Carpenter’s They Live or The Hidden – the sweet smirk of over the top silliness primed with low-budget violence. There are knowing references to other cinematic gunslingers throughout – from Eastwood to Tarantino to John Woo – for cinephiles who are tuned in to that sort of thing. The scene where Owen tenderly explains the workings and parts of a pistol to the delighted infant is a hoot. So are the constant musings on whether guns are phallic substitutes and other stuff usually left to undergrad classes with titles like “Sam Peckinpah and Impotence: The Gun in Cinema.”This is without even venturing into the love scene that is punctuated with multiple gunshot wounds to the baddies.

This is not a film for the masses but if you’re the sort that chuckles at a gratuitous extra spurt of fake blood or the sight of a stairwell full of endless thugs in suits dutifully running upstairs to hit their target (not the only time this film brings to mind the Fistful of Yen sequence in Kentucky Fried Movie) this ones for you.

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