Shoot ‘Em Up is fun. It doesn’t give us anything more than that, but it certainly is a fun film. It has almost non-stop action, and like the title indicates, there is a lot of shooting. There are tons of guns involved, although the most deadly of weapons seems to be the magical raw carrot, something that, without failing once, kills its target. Really, the carrot is the hero of our story, coming in so useful whenever it’s required to be. And it’s also quite tasty.
Our lead character is actually Clive Owen, playing one Mr. Smith. We never learn his real name. We meet him sitting at a bus stop, but after having a woman and a man pass him, he gets up and follows them. It turns out that the man wants to kill the woman. He stops this man and ends up getting into a shootout with dozens of men. The woman is pregnant, and he ends up helping with the delivery — while shooting at the bad guys. The baby is born and becomes the largest bone of contention. Doing things you wouldn’t expect someone to be able to do while getting into gunfights is a running gag, as we find out later on.
The woman dies after birthing the child, so Mr. Smith takes it. He ends up bringing it to a prostitute (Monica Mellucci), and the two end up setting off, running away from pretty much everyone else. There seem to be multiple groups who want this child, and they are all willing to kill in order to get it. Mr. Smith is willing to kill as well, and executes this will whenever he gets the chance. The bad guys are led by Paul Giamatti because we need a face to link to the villains of the picture.
Smith is an interesting character. We don’t get to learn much about him, even at the very end his past is still largely a mystery, but we like watching him regardless. He seems to hate everything except dogs, Oliver Twist and his carrots. Boy does he love those carrots. He eats them when a typical character would be dragging away on a cigarette. If that’s a satirical stab at modern action movies, then it made me laugh. If it wasn’t, and the carrots are there simply as the most effective weapon in the film, then I still laughed. This potentially added depth is about as deep as the film could get though.
We also like Smith because of how noble a character he is. He has some moral sense, even if he’ll shoot you if you so much as brush up against him. We can relate to him because he makes mention of things that disgust him. There’s a scene where he’s driving a car, and sees someone pass another driver without signaling. And then it happens again. This can enrage a lot of people, but usually nothing can be done. Smith speeds up and sideswipes this driver, effectively doing exactly what a lot of people wish to do. He acts out what most people can only fantasize about, and because of this, we like him. Saving a pregnant woman in the first scene was a great introduction, but to keep us liking him, we need to relate with him. We can.
Almost all of the film is over-the-top in its presentation. There’s nothing grounded in reality, as characters perform stunt after stunt of improbable feats. If you need an example of style over substance, you have it right here. But that’s part of the appeal in a movie like this. You want to see perfectly executed action scenes that could never happen. If you’re going to have a carrot that can penetrate a skull, you might as well ride that wave as far as it’ll take you.
There are some scenes that you can’t help but applaud because of how ridiculous they are. One of which is a passionate scene where our two lead characters are having a tender moment alone. The bad guys decide to break in, and instead of stopping what they were doing, they continue while Smith shoots down everyone that intrudes onto their property. It’s crazy, but there’s some brilliance in it as well, and I was entertained during parts like these.
It’s parts like these that also bring the film’s biggest problem into the spotlight. This problem comes from the fact that the enemies only seem to show up whenever it’s deemed that the audience is getting bored. And given how often they do appear, it must have been assumed that the audience is always bored. If there are 5 straight minutes without a gun being fired, I would be surprised.
This also leaves little room or time for the plot and characters. Apart from Smith and Giamatti’s character, everyone else is a cardboard cutout. The story tries to have some sort of conspiracy plot into play, but it’s rushed and doesn’t give us any thrills. It sets up action scenes, but its conclusion doesn’t have one of these. Instead, plot that we’d long stopped caring about it wrapped up, and it fails to matter because we’re here for the action scenes and nothing else. If they wanted to give us a plot, they should have started with that instead of trying to hammer it in far too late into the production.
Shoot ‘Em Up is fun, but little more. The action scenes are inventive and completely implausible, but it’s unlikely you’ll remember more than one or two of them after the film ends. The plot and characters are weak, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. If you want more or less non-stop action, this is a film you need to see. I can see it being offensive and turning people off, but I enjoyed it.