Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bullets over brains: The beauty of Shoot 'Em Up

I feel more than a little odd singing the praises of an extremely bloody (albeit equally silly) movie on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, but here goes.

Looking at the box-office numbers, I'm apparently one of the very few people in the world who bothered to see "Shoot 'Em Up" over the weekend (though there were two other people at my Monday afternoon screening.) I knew "3:10 to Yuma" would rule the weekend, but I didn't expect this very funny flick to fall so hard.

I've read a lot of critics' putdowns of this flick, and have to say I'm more than a little baffled. To me, at least, the most common complaints ring hollow. Given the title, what in the world were people expecting? Yes, it is essentially a string of elaborately staged gun battles between Clive Owen and, well, about 150 dudes or so, all led by Paul Giamatti. And it does indeed play out like a video game or an extremely violent music video, but so what?

Writer/director Michael Davis embraces these inherent limitations and injects his story with an uneven dose of wit, tons of adrenaline and one of the most gloriously ludicrous plots in recent memory. Why, at least for me, does this all work so much better than, say, Joe Carnahan's simply awful "Smokin' Aces"? Because not once, unlike Carnahan's flick, does "Shoot 'Em Up" take itself remotely seriously.

The ridiculous plot, in fact, lifts a large chunk of Carnahan's "Aces" story and takes it even further beyond the line of believability. It starts with Clive Owen as a former black ops officer who just happens to be sitting on a bench as a very pregnant woman runs by, being pursued by some rather angry gunmen. After delivering the baby (amid a flurry of bullets, of course), Owen ends up on the run with the youngun and being pursued by Giamatti's gunmen. Through circumstances too silly to explain here, he hooks up with la bella Monica Bellucci, who pulls off her role of looking perpetually annoyed with aplomb.

However, even by the standard of a movie that's paced like a cartoon (with Clive Owen perpetually munching on a carrot, in case you somehow still missed the point), this is far from perfect. Though the bullet ballets are designed to get more and more insane as the show goes on (set to heavy metal and grunge, of course, including Motorhead's always-welcome "Ace of Spades"), it finally reaches a breaking point about an hour in. For me it came when our hero, cornered in a gun factory by at least 20 dudes, manages to escape by using a series of weapons he somehow managed to (sight unseen, by us) string from the cieling. And, simply admitting and embracing the fact that a plot makes no sense doesn't completely excuse it.

That, however, is thinking far too deeply about a flick that's best enjoyed without much thought at all. I was still laughing on the ride home, and from a late-summer flick I can't ask for much more than that.

I'm convinced that if this had come out in June rather than September it would have been a pretty big hit. And if you do bother to see this and are offended by any of it (including an infant in a constant state of peril), just take a second to look at the title and again ask: What in the world were you expecting?

A "Prime" opportunity on DVD

Though the big news for me today in the DVD world is that "The Wire: Season 4" is finally set to come out Dec. 4, there is a police show that's almost as good as that HBO masterpiece coming to a close on DVD today.

Long before U.S. cable programmers realized that people might actually like seeing great actresses beyond the age of 25 on TV, Dame Helen Mirren paved the way for the likes of Kyra Sedgwick, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison. Through seven searing miniseries, aired on PBS stations in the U.S., she has starred in one of the best police procedurals around.

Now, with 2006's "Prime Suspect: The Final Act" out on DVD today, the story finally goes out on top, even after Jane Tennison hits bottom.

As the seventh chapter opens, retirement is just around the corner for Tennison, and her final case revolves around finding a schoolgirl's killer. This being "Prime Suspect," she and her team follow several wrong turns and disappointing leads along the way, but the ultimate challenge this time is personal. Faced with a challenging case and the imminent death of her father, Det. Tennison dives deeper into alcoholism and almost ruins everything.

It would be more than a little cliched with a lesser leading lady, but this is Dame Mirren at her best, and I highly recommend this DVD. Peace out.


jeremy said...

Iron Man teaser trailer is up--did you catch it? Looks, dare I say, kinda awesome.
(Waiting for DVD on Shoot 'Em Up, even tho the bf has a ridiculous crush on Giamatti.)

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the link, Jeremy ... I have seen the trailer, and I have to agree that it looks as good as I could have hoped ... And Giamatti, though cartoonishly evil, is a hell of a lot of fun in "Shoot 'Em Up"

Chris said...

I think you answered your own question with the "sight unseen, weapons strung from the ceiling" sequence by noting that it was very cartoonish. I think it would have spoiled the "joke" had we seen Owen walking through the factory stringing up every single one of his weapons.

The sequence is told very much like a joke, as you see Owen string up one of the weapons and you wonder, "What the hell does this guy think he's doing?" and then as it unfolds, you realize he had an elaborate, crazy plan. And I thought it was very funny.

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought it was funny too, Chris, but I think that was just the sensory overload point for me in a movie obviously filled to the brim with fireworks

Bob said...

I had a blast with "Shoot 'Em Up." I've loved Looney Toons since before I can remember so seeing a live-action one couldn't have been more welcome.
As for "3:10 to Yuma" it just didn't quite do it for me. Certainly not a bad movie by any stretch but it just fell a little short I thought. Maybe I'm the only one.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're not the only one, Bob, because I at least have to agree with you ... Though it was expertly constructed by Mr. Mangold, it all felt a little too calculated and cold to me too

Nell Minow said...

I agree with you about Shoot 'Em Up, which I thought was sharp and inventive and very funny and far better than "Smokin' Aces." Owen and Giamatti were sensational and Davis' stunts were terrific and his control of the tone was superb. I thought they gave enough of a sense that he was rigging something in the gun factory that it worked when they revealed what it was. I think your point about the timing was right on the money -- if it had been released in July it would have done very well.

Reel Fanatic said...

I enjoyed reading your review, Nell, and appreciate that the title of "Movie Mom" doesn't keep you from enjoyin stylized violence in movies when it's done with actual style

RC said...

i've only watched the first two prime suspects, but i plan on finishing the series.

helen mirren is great.