Review: 'Shoot 'Em Up' does just that, and well

It is the best of movies. It is the worse of movies (my apologies to Dickens). This critique arises for the same reasons the famed author coined these well-known sentences I just shamelessly bastardized. Like “Shoot ‘Em Up,” the revolution about which he wrote was liberating, but damn bloody.

Writer/Director Michael Davis, unshackled after a career in B movies, displays an acute sense of irreverent wit during 90 minutes of continuous violence, with brief interludes for sex, character development, and reloading of weapons.

This smorgasbord of mayhem, sick but hilarious jokes, and innovative stunts collectively provide one of the more creative action scripts of the year.

Before you can open your Red Vines, an indifferent Smith (Clive Owen), chillin’ on a bus bench, witnesses a pregnant woman under attack by what appears to be a bunch of foul-mouthed thugs.

Reluctantly coming to her aid, he shoves a carrot into an attacker’s mouth, quickly followed by a karate thrust to the still protruding end of the vegetable, sending it though the back of the man’s cranium. But the now “late” villain is not a common street criminal. His back-ups are pros—a full platoon of goons outfitted in matching black outfits complete with color coordinated automatic weapons.

Mr. Innocent Bystander, now warming to his unanticipated task,shoots a hole in the bottom of an oil pan, sprints to the spilling liquid, executing a slide on his back, creating a flat moving target with arms akimbo and guns firing from both hands—a conveyor belt of lethality.

Back on his feet, amid a shower of bullets, he delivers the woman’s baby with the grace of a midwife. Unfortunately mom doesn’t survive the battle.

Hertz (Paul Giamatti), a nerdy sociopath and leader of this curious team of assassins, arrives on the scene befuddled. What was to be a simple job has suddenly turned complex.

The paper-napkin story line is that babies are being raised by surrogate mothers, providing bone marrow for an important, but ill politician. The babies, conceived with his sperm, are critical, the mothers dispensable.

Smith escapes with the newborn. A resourceful sort, the Good Samaritan takes the boy to a brothel, where one of the working girls, Donna (Monica Bellucci), having just lost a baby, still boasts a full udder.

The chase to reclaim the baby runs an obstacle course of choreographed stunts and gags with a comic book mindset. Hertz, with a Sherlock Holmes capacity for tracking his prey, stays hot on the trail of Smith, Donna, and the baby—inventive cat and mouse play spiced with imaginative sex.

The intrusion of Smith, initially dismissed as a hindrance, presents Hertz with a worthy adversary. The challenge both excites and aggravates him, stimulating his perversity.

Somewhere in this hybrid of a graphic novel and a Quentin Tarantino stylized bloodbath, lies a bit of genius—a foreshadowing of future creations from a generation raised on video game scenarios.

Also evident is a very purposeful architecture (are you listening Hollywood?), a frugality common to directors with small budgets, forced into nail-biting creativity. These unsung artists consistently bring the edge that dissipates in big-budget complacency.

Movies began as novelty items, not works of art. They served as amusement—a fascination not unlike the fat lady, Siamese twins, and the palm reader. They were a source of fun, not philosophy, and there’s sense of that in “Shoot ‘Em Up.”

Unfortunately, the content is not appropriate for the population at large. Years ago we hit the point of saturation with the onscreen spilling of blood.

So it’s not too much to ask that the new wave of creative talent visit the infinite possibilities for alternative story lines.

Grade: B-

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read reviews by other Examiner critics.

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