In 10 Words or Less
Read the title again
Loves: Ridiculous movies
Likes: Clive Owens, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci
There's something very freeing about watching a movie with nearly no redeeming social value. You can simply shut off your brain and experience it on a very primal level, which quickly reveals whether it's entertaining or not. Shoot 'em Up, which should win an award for truth in advertising, is just such a film. There's nothing more to it than a bunch of action scenes strung together on a thin strand of plot, all shot with style and energy. It's as if the creators sat around saying "Wouldn't it be cool if you had a scene with X?" where X is a ridiculously over-the-top set piece out of the John Woo book of filmmaking.
The result is the story of Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), a mysterious loner who gets drawn into a complicated conspiracy when he sees a pregnant woman chased by a thug with a gun. Helping deliver the baby in the midst of a gunfight (the first of several milestones in the movie), he becomes the newborn's protector, against his better judgment, and with the help of DQ (Monica Bellucci,) a prostitute with a unique dairy-based specialty. Why the baby needs protection from the attacks from Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his army of hired killers is revealed as the film unfolds, and it's just as over-the-top as the rest of the film.
Does the baby's backstory really matter? Not really. Will you care? Not really. How could you, when you've got shoot-outs during sessions of lovemaking, shoot-outs while falling out of planes and shoot-outs with people with no fingers. It's indulgent filmmaking at its finest, all conducted with gusto by director Michael Davis, whose previous work wouldn't suggest he's capable of helming such beautiful chaos. But here it is, for us to enjoy, borrowing from old cartoon violence (especially when it comes to Mr. Smith's ever-present carrot and Mr. Hertz' signature ring tone) and the complexity of Rube Goldberg devices (which Mr. Smith can MacGyver in any situation.)
The excessive nature of the film helps make it fun, but the three lead performances make it good, starting with Owen, who further defines his status as an action hero. His look is perfect, making even the most unbelievable maneuver somewhat realistic, and his ability to deliver even the cheesiest dialogue with grim seriousness raises Mr. Smith above the B-movie trappings of the rest of the film. The same doesn't go for Bellucci's milk maiden, but if she was real, she wouldn't be nearly as fun as she is here, since it feels like she got lost on the way to a '60s Italian spy movie. A thick accent, sexy body and halting delivery take her to the edge of cartoon and into the realm of just right for this film.
The same goes for Giamatti, who gets to leave his acting ability at the door and turn on the ham as an angry yet erudite assassin struggling with his family life as he hunts down his infant prey. It's the kind of unhinged performance you need in a genre film, but with a disturbingly dark sense of humor that's frequently missing from such characters, resulting in flat, one-dimensional bad guys. Here, thanks to Giamatti, Mr. Hertz is practically likable, despite being a complete psychopath-the mark of a quality villain.
There's so much going on in this film, that you'll be surprised how long it feels, despite barely cracking the 80-minute mark. That's not to say it drags in any way or that you'll be bored at any point. The film just crams so much into its run-time that it feels like two utterly pointless, yet undeniably enjoyable exercises in violence in one. Considering it's missing about a film's worth of plot, the padding is welcome and just what the doctor ordered.
A one-disc release, the DVD is packed in a standard keepcase with an embossed, uv-coated matte-finish slipcover that thankfully strips away the usual back-of-the-box content for a nice design. The disc features a stylish animated anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play the film, adjust languages, select scenes and check out the special features. Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and 2.0 and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete tracks, while subtitles are available in English and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film is excellent, capturing all the action and stylish visual tricks beautifully. The level of detail is extremely high, the color (an important element of the film's look) is spot-on, and the image is clean and clear overall. There are no issues with dirt and damage or digital artifacts, though a few of the opening trailers are oddly blurry. The only note of problem with the main feature is with the detail and clarity of the image, which reveals some of special effects, an unfortunate byproduct of the video quality.
The audio presentation is what I first looked forward to in checking out this film, as any movie built around gun fights had better make them sound good. New Line's considered that, as the DVD features a pair of solid tracks, including a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track and a DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete version (along with a more pedestrian 2.0 presentation.) Usually, it's a pretty easy pick as to which is the better track, with DTS winning handily, but it's not quite as clear-cut here. The DTS track is absolutely more precise in how it handles the audio, giving each speaker a good deal to work with, but the Dolby 5.1 EX track has more overall punch. Either way, you can hear each bullet clearly, along with every thud and clink they make as they find their marks. The dialogue and music is clear and crisp, and well-defined separate from the sound effects, which are excellent. The mix is certainly very dynamic, moving the action around the soundfield, but when you're not in a hail of bullets, it's more of a straight-forward front-heavy mix that splits the dialogue across the center and front speakers.
There's a good mix of extras on this DVD, focusing naturally on how the film was made. It all gets started with a feature-length audio commentary by Davis, the writer and director. Having spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for the film, Davis comes to the party with plenty to say, much of it quite interesting. The stories from the set, including bits about the three main actors, are especially worth a listen, as the track moves smoothly thanks to Davis' enthusiasm.
A group of nine deleted scenes (viewable individually or together, with or without commentary by Davis) mostly expand upon what's in the movie, and are more valuable for Davis' thoughts on why they were cut than anything in the scenes. The same goes for the 17 animatics from Davis' storyboards (also with optional commentary.) These are presented with the filmed versions available to watch, allowing for comparisons, and also feature some ideas for the film's titles and experiments with the blood special effects. Of anything on this disc, this shows just how much this film was Davis' baby.
The five-part making of documentary Ballet of Bullets runs 52 minutes in length and covers much of the same ground as Davis' commentary, but with the added value of visuals from the shooting of the film and interviews with cast and crew. Combined with the commentary, these segments give a nice look behind the scenes of the film. The documentary is followed by three trailers for the movie, including the nicely done remix, which is almost as ridiculous as the film.
If you pop the disc into your Windows XP computer (it didn't work on my Vista machine), you get a DVD-ROM version of the film to watch, which allows you to view set photos, follow the original script or view a damage stat screen (with body and bullet counts.) It's a entertaining multitasking version of the film for anyone looking for a reason to watch the movie again. There's also some web links.
The Bottom Line
This is the ultimate anti-film-snob movie, lacking most anything resembling substance, but loaded with tons of fun, action and style. If you can just sit back and let the excessive gun battles and violence wash over you like a wave of guilty pleasures, the film is, pardon the pun, a blast. The DVD looks and sounds wonderful, with impressive audio options, and is supplemented by a healthy mix of bonus material that really gets into the making of this tech-heavy film. If you want a night of mindless fun and don't mind it coated in a few gallons of blood, this is a great pick to veg out to.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.