Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a New York City bench when a pregnant woman (Ramona Pringle), clearly in distress, rushes by him. Hot in pursuit is a gunman, who chases her into a deserted ramshackle building. Smith takes a bite of his carrot and follows. Within moments, guys are almost literally coming out of the woodwork as Smith protects the lady and pumps each of them full of lead. Shells from his gun pop off her belly and, when she gives birth then and there, Smith cuts the umbilical cord by shooting it, the blood spraying onto the new mother's face. This opening scene, like the proceeding 75 minutes of "Shoot 'Em Up," is ridiculously violent, comically bloody and so over-the-top that one can only view it as a cartoon that just so happens to be live-action. As for the says-it-all title, it is truth in advertising taken to the extreme.
With the baby's ill-fated mom out of the picture soon after, Smith goes on the run with the infant, hunted down by the sociopathic Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his rapidly multiplying henchmen. Along for the ride is sexy gold-hearted hooker Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci), who has recently lost her own baby and takes a shine to the in-demand orphan. Smith wants Donna to quit the business she's in and make a clean break with little Oliver. Before all of them are safe, however, Smith must investigate why the child is so important and prove to Hertz that he has definitely messed with the wrong fellow.
Writer-director Michael Smith, he of 2000's little-known indie "100 Girls" and 2002's sequel "100 Women," breaks through to the big time with "Shoot 'Em Up," a bullet-fueled actioner that makes no qualms about what it wants to be. Thus, there is minimal exposition, few character-driven moments, and just enough of a plot for all of the running and shooting to make sense. Viewers expecting a well-developed narrative and something substantive to take away from it all are going to be very disappointed, and probably shouldn't have bothered seeing a movie called "Shoot 'Em Up" in the first place.
For everyone else who is willing to go along for the exponentially silly ride, they will find quite a lot to like. Action set-pieces are frequently audacious, with one shoot-out taking place during a mid-air skydive and another occurring while Smith and Donna have sex. The death scenes, of which there are over one hundred, are crude and creative, with a carrot being used as a weapon twice. Dialogue is intentionally and joyously cheesy, if clever all the same, though the majority of it wouldn't be polite to repeat here. And as for the story, well, it's certainly not airtight and doesn't need to be. Why Smith is so protective of the baby is touched upon, but director Michael Smith is disinterested in the hows and whys and washes over it with the barest of explanations. It's just as well, since the film is already a little too overextended at less than ninety minutes.
Performances are broad to compliment the outrageousness surrounding them. Clive Owen (2006's "Children of Men
") plays Smith like the reigning badass to end all competing badasses. Paul Giamatti (2007's "The Nanny Diaries
") chews up the scenery with great relish as the irredeemably maniacal Hertz. And Monica Bellucci (2005's "The Brothers Grimm
") embraces the role of sarcastically sumptuous eye candy as Donna.
In a time when action pictures tend to get bogged down by pretentiously pretending to be about more than they really are, "Shoot 'Em Up" is eager to please by owning up to what it truly is: a stylishly entertaining, bombastic, ludicrous, and purely inconsequential ride. One could accuse it of being mean-spirited, but Smith's intentions are good even when his everyday methods of righting wrongsmoms who spank their children in public and drivers who don't know how to use their turn signals receive well-deserved beatings amidst the chaosare questionable. "Shoot 'Em Up" won't be winning any Oscars come the end of the year, and the fact that director Michael Smith acknowledges this while driving over everything that is in political correctness is kind of refreshing.