Clive Owen never got to be Bond, Monica Bellucci never got to be a Bond girl and Paul Giamatti probably would never have been in a Bond movie anyway (though he’d make an interesting Felix Leiter) but all three of them are for some reason starring in SHOOT ‘EM UP. Several days after seeing the film, I’m still not quite sure what to say about it.
It takes about 30 seconds of the film before mayhem begins, involving gunplay, a pregnant woman and surprising use of a carrot as a weapon. Clive Owen is Smith, a guy eating a carrot at a bus stop who gets caught up in the plot involving a baby and a seemingly endless supply of bad guys who are trying to catch the baby. Paul Giamatti is the lead bad guy, constantly dealing with his wife on a cell phone which contains a ring tone identical to a piece of Wagner that Elmer Fudd used to sing opera to. Another carrot conection. Monica Bellucci is the, um, lactating prostitute who comes in handy for Smith at this particular time.
Look, it’s a goof. I totally get that. It’s extremely offensive. I’m totally cool with that. It’s like some bizarre subgenre has popped up in the past year of post-post-Tarantino types who are trying to take things to some sort of next level. There was CRANK, there was SMOKIN’ ACES, and in all honestly I may have liked this one better than those two—I certainly laughed more—but I’m not entirely certain what the point is. To be a comic book/videogame/comment on action films in general? If that’s the case, I wish it were better made—maybe better is the wrong word. Maybe I’m trying to say that I wish that the extreme offensiveness had a more earnest feel to it, if that makes any sense at all. As it is, the movie feels like it’s bending over backwards in its attempt to piss off somebody. A few days ago I stumbled onto last year’s RUNNING SCARED on cable, a tremendously violent film and found myself riveted by the lengths it went to in order to shock me in a uniquely audacious fashion. Sometimes there’s a difference with these things that is tough to put your finger on. Maybe that film just felt more committed in its madness.
Maybe SHOOT ‘EM UP is an intentional throwback to the sort of genre films New Line used to make. It’s set in an unnamed American city but was shot, probably on a strict budget, in Toronto. Maybe that’s part of the joke. Maybe the lousy digital effects are part of the joke. In his apartment Clive Owen has a giant old TV which for some reason made me think of the sets in VIDEODROME and the costumes were done by Cronenberg’s sister Denise, so maybe that’s part of the joke. Which is probably a reach but a good indication that I was sitting there during a fair chunk of the running time wondering what exactly the joke was.
Clive Owen is a phenomenal actor, as is Paul Giamatti. Monica Bellucci, with her Barbara Carrera-type looks, is to me beyond gorgeous. I don’t want to say that this material is beneath them, that’s not where I’m coming from. I guess what I’m saying is that if there’s going to be one movie on this planet featuring these three unique screen presences, then I just wish it were something more interesting. Spectacularly offensive or not.
Even writing that last paragraph, I’m reminded of a few things in the film that bring a smile to my face. It’s not a film I disliked and the cult is going to begin the day the DVD comes out. The thing is, with some sleazy, offensive movies there’s an element that gets under your skin for better or worse and they become memorable, giving you that true rush which reminds you why you’re seeing that movie in the first place. Not so much here. Even as Clive Owen became involved in a shootout while simultaneously in a compromising position with Monica Bellucci, I just felt like there wasn’t much there. It’s funny, but it’s empty. It’s empty, but it’s funny. That about sums up my feelings on the matter.