|Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie
Director: Michael Davis
Last week I chided “Death Sentence” for trying to take the high road in a gory revenge thriller, as if any of the movie’s characters actually deserved that kind of respect. “Shoot ‘Em Up,” thankfully, does not make the same mistake. The movie is 16 different flavors of bad, from the dialogue to the special effects to the acting, and yet the end result is one of the most wildly entertaining bad movies to come down the pipe in years. What did “Shoot ‘Em Up” do that “Death Sentence” didn’t? It embraced its badness, pure and simple.
Clive Owen stars as a man known only as Mr. Smith, a stranger who watches a very pregnant woman getting chased by a goon with a knife. Smith saves the woman’s life long enough for her to deliver a baby boy, and before Smith knows it, he’s fighting off a small army of well-armed goons led by a heavy named Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Smith doesn’t really want to keep the baby, but cannot let it die, either. He contacts the only person he trusts, a prostitute (!) named DQ (Monica Bellucci), to help keep the baby alive long enough to discover why so many people want the baby dead.
Roger Ebert will surely hate this movie. It’s needlessly violent, cynical, poorly made and, well, pointless. (Curiously, he loved “Death Sentence,” though his review did not really explain why.) What Ebert doesn’t understand – and it hurts me to say this, because the man is my idol – is that sometimes, under the right circumstances, those can all be assets rather than liabilities. You just need to put them in the hands of someone, in this case B-movie lifer Michael Davis, who gives the material the respect it deserves…which, for the record, is none. Say what you will about Davis’ inability to coax a single good reading from one very memorable one-line actress: the man has an undeniable gift for turning the ridiculous into the sublime, as the warehouse scene and sex scene will attest.
The last piece of evidence I will submit in the movie’s defense is the casting. Do you think Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti, future Academy Award winners both, were tricked into making this movie? Not a chance. They knew that they were making something better than bad but not exactly good, and that is precisely why they signed on. Otherwise, the movie would have starred Jason Statham and Rufus Sewell (Bellucci probably would have done it either way). And thank goodness that Owen and Giamatti are here to make the movie’s bad jokes – of which there are many – easier to swallow. Davis may have a gift for the sub par, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t step up the dialogue a tad. His joke about a woman and a gun is the kind of thing my ex-stepfather would tell, and my ex-stepfather has a lousy sense of humor.Why is it that most bad movies are made with such good intentions, while the truly good bad movies are made with none at all? “Shoot ‘Em Up” makes no bones about its badness, and is actually better off because of it. My critic friend Kristin Dreyer Kramer called it “‘Crank,’ only good.” Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?