Clive Owen. He could have been Bond, James Bond. And I'm not saying Daniel Craig and Casino Royale were not amazing, but Owen had the class and charisma to pull it off and, arguably, do an even better job. After the outstanding Croupier, his brief but scene-stealing cameo in The Bourne Identity, and all those BMW short films, he seemed the obvious choice to me. That said, there are a few benefits to his avoiding the role - for example, his performance in the amazing Children of Men (how many heroes these days never even pick up a gun?). Amidst his recent choices he took a very action-orientated role in the superb graphic novel adaptation Sin City (and should have the central role in the sequel, if it ever gets made) and then signed up to do a movie entitled Shoot 'Em Up. I'm not entirely sure from the titles, but it sounds like it might have some action in it...
"Do we really suck or is this guy really that good?"
Mr Smith is in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnessing a mother both give birth and die at the hands of numerous gun-toting assassins. Not one to stand by and let the baby die as well, Smith luckily happens to be ridiculously good with a gun, and proceeds to shoot his way through several 'levels' of the movie, picking up a prostitute sidekick/love interest before he eventually has to face off against his evil nemesis, Hertz, all the while holding the new-born baby. The set-pieces get increasingly big, the shootouts more over-the-top and the baddies just keep coming, the story almost becoming irrelevant to the rest of the proceedings. It's big, it's loud, it's fun and it's shameless. It feels like a British version of Hard Boiled (remember Chow Yun-Fat's baby-holding shootout in the final act?), a darkly comic variation on the Transporter movies, or even Crank with a bigger budget and more of a Hollywood attitude, and as such it is pretty damn entertaining.
Sure, the story is almost redundant (but actually more than enough to keep the movie going from one action scene to another), and the action - however cool - is nothing that we have not seen before, whether in one of the aforementioned movies or in something like The Matrix, but the humour really makes a difference. It is surprisingly dark and, in combination with actors who are playing their roles straight, the end result is refreshingly unique, despite seeming - on the face of it - like a montage of scenes that you have seen before. I mean, really, how many different ways can you kill a man with a carrot?
Clive Owen is at once both wasted in this role and perfect for it. He's on good form, really bringing the comic book-style character to life (to far better effect than in his portion of Sin City, mainly thanks to a better script) and having some great lines. He makes for a capable action hero, distinguishable from the numerous others by his dark sense of humour, which is simply perfected for Owen. Paul Giamatti is in much the same position: you often wonder why an actor of his talent is doing a full-on action movie like this, but you can't see who else would be able to pull it off. He plays it straight throughout, and is surprisingly good as the diabolical villain. It's only Monica Bellucci who I was disappointed with. Nobody can argue with the fact that she is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but many of her English-language performances have seemed uninspired. Her original French and Italian work was great, her role in Irreversible was haunting, and she was superb in The Passion of the Christ as well, but - most notably in The Matrix sequels - her blockbuster work has been a little lacklustre. Here it's probably her role that lets her down, despite the fact that - again - she feels perfect for it. Her prostitute/heroine is normally the source of all the bad taste in the film, and you end up feeling absolutely nothing for this character. The biggest problem, though, is the fact that there is zero chemistry between her and Owen, which is a big issue considering they are supposed to have such a passionate history. Still, amidst all the gunfights, it does not really make too much difference.
Shoot 'Em Up is a more than just a banal actioner as you would expect from the title, boasting a darkly comic streak that makes it reassuringly original and quite a bit more entertaining. Some will like it just for the shootouts and action sequences, but those who want more will likely be engaged by the humour and the dark side of this drama. Owen and Giamatti are both on good form, and the action is your typical rollercoaster ride stuff, and when all is said and done, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. At times a guilty pleasure, at times a cut above, and sometimes even one step too far. Perhaps it has a couple of uneasy moments, and it's certainly not to everybody's taste, but it is probably worth taking the risk over. You may be pleasantly surprised.
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