Sunday, December 30, 2007

Shoot Em Up

This is the first film I have ever seen from Michael Davis, and I know nothing about the man. But based solely on Shoot Em Up, I'm going to go ahead and assume that he was born with severe birth defects, has spent his entire life in a single dark room, was educated and schooled with only Maxim Magazines and Jackie Chan films and that he's currently 12 years old. A pointless exercise in cruel stupidity, I could deal with. But such a poorly made exercise in cruel stupidity just makes me angry...

Shoot Em Up is one of those movies that tries to excuse ineptitude with goofiness. It would like to be a genuinely kickass action movie, but the dialogue is excruciatingly awful, so none of the jokes are funny, and Davis has no clue how to shoot or choreograph an action sequence, so it's never cool or exciting. To compensate, the film WINKS at you for 90 solid minutes. "Hey, we know these one-liners are terrible! Yeah, this gunfight is preposterous, incoherently edited and totally nonsensical! That's what makes it so funny! Ha ha!"

A touch of absurdity in a throwback action-comedy like this is welcome. Shane Black's screenplays for tongue-in-cheek action films like The Long Kiss Goodnight manage to inject lunacy into the genre without being this grating. Constant and total absurdity gets wearisome fast, and the fact that the cartoon logic and over-the-top violence in Shoot Em Up aren't cleverly employed or original kills any midnight movie value this ugly mess could have hoped for. (Also, if you want to reach a cult movie audience, don't brazenly rip off shots from Sam Raimi and Coen Brothers films. Cult movie fans are the exact people who will recognize what you're doing.)

Initially, I thought Davis was going to completely avoid telling a story at all, which actually would have been okay. The film just sort of starts and it's at least 20 minutes before even the basics of a plotline begin to creep in at the margins - and I was glad. "At least he didn't bother trying to concoct some ridiculous storyline for this nonsense," I thought. "I'll give him some credit for that." But, was not to be. Almost as if the movie could hear my thoughts, a miserably thin, purposeless and idiotic story was introduced.

The unnamed hero (Clive Owen) is essentially a bum. He's hanging out at a bus stop eating a carrot when a pregnant woman, terrified for her life, runs by him, followed by a mean-looking guy with a gun. Owen intervenes and tries to save the woman, but is confronted by a veritable army of mean-looking guys with lots and lots of guns, led by a guy I thought was unnamed but whom IMDb refers to as "Hertz." (Ha ha!) He is played by Paul Giamatti who, like Owen, salvages some dignity by chewing the scenery, just playing the entire film for laughs.

During the ensuing gun battle, Owen kills just about everybody (except Giamatti) and delivers the pregnant woman's baby. Then he and the baby get in several more gun battles. Then he brings the baby to a lactating prostitute (poor, unfortunate Monica Bellucci). Then he begins to solve the mystery of the Baby Whom All the Really Bad Marksmen Want to Kill.

See, the whole idea of the film is that Owen uses a variety of ridiculous, physics-defying, Looney Tunes-esque methods of shooting at bad guys. If this had been done well, employing some degree of imagination and Rube Goldberg ingenuity, these scenes could maybe have worked. I'm not convinced, but it's theoretically possible. I'm not a huge fan of the Final Destination series, but they're organized in a similar fashion - ironic, self-aware set pieces in which a series of unlikely or unpredictable little events lead to big, gruesome payoffs. But those films try to outwit the viewer, employing devious little surprises and twists to keep the death-mechanisms entertaining (well, somewhat.)

The shenanigans in Shoot Em Up are just unlikely, but not in a fun or interesting way. I think the major problem is the direction, which is haphazard and sloppy and does a very poor job of giving these absurd stunts even a faint whiff of genuine physical reality. You want sloppy? In the first shot of the movie, we see Clive Owen take a bite out of a carrot. A few moments later, he uses the carrot to stab another man to death, and when it pops out the back of the other guy's skull, it's brand new and uneaten. THAT, my friends, is some lazy, sloppy shit.

Oh, and I'm blaming Davis and not cinematographer Peter Pau for the film's drab, indistinct and unattractive visuals because the latter has a long resume that includes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I doubt very much all this crap was his doing.

If we don't ever believe for a moment that Owen is aiming a gun whilst skydiving, or moving a playground carousel around by shooting at it, or wielding a carrot as a weapon, or whipping a baby up into his arms by grabbing its blankie, because the movie makes it look fraudulent and jokey, then we're not going to find it funny. You have to invest in the reality of a situation in order to then find its goings-on comical. Think Ben Stiller wrestling the dog in Something About Mary. It works because Stiller's good at that kind of dorky physical comedy and because the Farrellys intercut between shots of a real dog and a fake stuffed one, complete with realistic sound effects. We know that he's not really beating up a dog, but it feels real enough to surprise us, to give the fleeting impression that an adorable dog is being manhandled by Ben Stiller.

In comparison, the effects work and editing here just don't work at all, not even for a moment. Some of this stuff might have seemed okay to me if it were pulled off well, like the bit with Owen rigging up a variety of automatic weapons with strings, and then firing them at villains like a puppeteer. That's an okay concept for a sequence, but the way Davis lays it out ruins the effect. The guns are obviously placed. The bad guys can clearly see them and would just get out of their direct line of fire. Some of the shots are so poorly edited and sequenced, it seems like the bad guys have LONG PERIODS OF TIME between realizing Owen is going to shoot at them and trying to get out of the way of the bullets. The whole movie is just botched like this, almost as if Shoot Em Up became a comedy because it couldn't hack it as a real action movie.

(These stunts are also insanely repetitive - Owen slides on his belly past enemies then fires backwards at them at least 10 times in the film's first hour, and Bruce Willis already did that a bunch in Die Hard!)

Finally, I feel like I point this out about bad movies a lot these days, and I'm not sure if I'm becoming more sensitive to this stuff or if it's creeping into mainstream films more, but Shoot Em Up is misogynist to a fairly extreme degree. Bellucci's character exists only to be degraded or to be used as a literal prop by the film's male characters. When she's first introduced, a pervert is paying her to drink her breast milk. Later, in a scene meant to be funny, she gives a back alley blowjob to earn money for a bulletproof vest. Owen kills bad guys while having sex with her, flinging her out of the way of incoming bullets, and she barely seems to notice. She's in the vast majority of this movie, and she's not given a single one-liner or heroic moment. She doesn't impact the plot in any way. It's like, "Hey, baby, show us your tits. Now fuck the lead character to make him seem more awesome. Now take care of this baby we no longer require and get the hell out of here before I throw you a beating."

Also, Giamatti gets constant phone calls from his unseen wife; he pauses from threatening to shoot Owen only to make disparaging jokes about her. Oh, and in the midst of one of the film's gun battles, the camera pauses on a calendar, in which a bullet hole has been driven right through the pin-up girl's butt. Oh, yeah, and right after a brand new mother is shot in the head, her corpse is carried around as a running joke, and Giamatti's character gets off on feeling her breasts. Ha ha!

Shoot Em Up may be what all movies are like in 30 years, when all filmmakers will have grown up surrounded by video games, Michael Bay movies and "Girls Gone Wild" ads. I just hope somebody will have the common decency to shove a carrot through my eye socket before it comes to that.


C.K. said...

Ah, Lonnie, you hated it. Too bad. I thought it was a good "horrible film" romp.

Jordan said...

i agree with this review so 100% that you have no idea. i just finished this (?), and i wanted one of the many, many bullets used in this film to find their way into the director's brain. Who knows, maybe it would make him a little more creative. Why one of my favorite actors of recent times (Clive Owen) would bother to be in this turd is beyond me.