Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Clive Owen .Smith
Paul Giamatti .Hertz
Monica Bellucci .Donna Quintano
Playing an action movie villain is like a lot of things in life; most actors do it at least once. Kris Kristofferson was the main villain opposite Mel Gibson in Payback, Alan Rickman famously played Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Aaron Eckhardt taunted Ben Affleck in Paycheck as easily as John Malkovich taunted Nicolas Cage in Con Air, Phillip Seymour Hoffman followed up an Oscar winning performance by taunting Ethan Hunt in the third Mission: Impossible film, Jeremy Irons took a stab at the antagonist in Die Hard with a Vengeance and 70s icon John Travolta has been the villain de jour over the past two decades. It’s only fitting that Paul Giamatti would take a break from art films like Sideways and American Splendor for the role of Mr. Hertz in Shoot Em Up opposite Clive Owen.
Owen is Mr. Smith, a British Nanny with a history of changing diapers as rapidly as he can change magazines in a variety of small arms. Hertz wants a particular baby dead for some unknown reason and Smith takes it upon himself to prevent that from happening. What follows is a nearly 90 minute action thrill-ride that would make even John Woo blush in envy and one of the year’s most visually exciting films.
That’s the film’s calling card, as it eschews a strong plot or dramatic situations. Instead the film relies on some inventive action sequences to carry the load. And the film does so spectacularly, as well; this is a film that doesn’t merely just indulge the action junkie for a few exciting sequences. Even the most ardent action fan will be satisfied with the sheer amount of exciting and inventive action scenes; from the film’s opening, where Smith helps a woman deliver while simultaneously engaging in a shootout with Hertz’s men, the film finds a way to turn nearly every sort of clichÃ©d action movie moment and turn it into a ridiculous crowd-pleaser. The film takes a plethora of action and meshes it with some blue humor to maximum effect. It’s morbidly funny, visually exciting and the type of action movie that’s been missing from American cinema for years. And of all the people to be the star, Clive Owen is an oddly fascinating choice.
It’s interesting to see Owen in this role; considering he was on the odds on favorite to be the next James Bond, and subsequently lost the role, this seems to be his apology to action enthusiasts who wanted him in the role as Britain’s premier secret agent. With enough wisecracks to go around, Owen plays the role as if he was Britain’s answer to Chow Yun-Fat. He’s a one man army but he does it in such creative ways, from using oil in a car to slide his way through a warehouse guns blazing to the various uses a carrot can have as a weapon, which it feels like this is what we’re supposed to expect from the man. Owen is a natural in the genre, as he seems to be having a ball for the entire film. He fires one-liners off non-stop, breaking out some comedic gems worthy of the best. Giamatti is up to the task as a villain as well; he seems to be reveling in playing a character so remarkably foul-mouthed and evil. It’s a departure from his usual and it’s a nice display of range. Hertz will never be mentioned in the same league as Hans Gruber, but it’s a fun role for Giamatti nonetheless. Their chemistry carries the film; it’s a series of one-upmanship as to who can deliver the funnier line for the bulk of the film.
Shoot Em Up also functions well because Michael Davis knows exactly what he’s going for. With a soundtrack full of heavy metal anthems used gratuitously, including Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” and “Kick start my heart” by Motley Crue, the film is a celebration of testosterone-induced excess. This isn’t a pretentious Oscar winner, nor is it designed to be a summer blockbuster. Anytime a film starts off with a man helping a woman give birth while in the midst of a shootout, and that’s not the craziest moment in the film, then it’s in a league of its own.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):