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Shoot 'Em Up

by Yoda
posted on 9/10/07
There are, fundamentally, two ways to parody a particular genre. You can either mock openly, with specific imitation and absurdity (as in Scary Movie), or you can inhabit the genre yourself, and wink at the audience often enough that they know that you know you're making a parody (as in Scream).

Shoot 'Em Up is an example of the latter; it takes aim at the action genre, and proves to be an adept marksman.

The story (yes, it actually has one) begins thusly: Clive Owen ("Mr. Smith") is sitting on a park bench, eating a carrot, and a pregnant woman runs by. Pursuing her is a violent looking man yelling threats the whole way. She disappears around a corner, and he follows, brandishing a gun. Owen feels obliged to help her, and suddenly finds himself pursued by a large group of men. They've got guns, too, and he'll spend the rest of the movie killing them while trying to figure out what they're after, and why.

The group is led by a man named Hertz, played by Paul Giamatti as someone who spends as much time fielding calls from his wife as he does killing people.

Smith, being only one man, has to employ a great deal of creativity to keep piling the bodies on top of one another. People are killed in this movie with objects you would never dream could be lethal; to the contrary, at least one of them is supposed to be good for you. Most of the methods are fairly inventive, and all have a sort of frenzied logic to them that makes them feel a little bit less absurd than they are.

The only thing Smith likes to do more than kill people in interesting ways is to grouse about things that annoy him. The phrase "You know what I hate?" pops up a good half-dozen times, and is usually followed by a description of those everyday annoyances that we can all relate to. This movie is so utterly dedicated to being enjoyable that it actually stops to have its "hero" punish someone who doesn't use their turn signal, or someone who slurps when they drink. After seeing Shoot 'Em Up, I think I can safely assume that I now know what sorts of things bother Michael Davis, who both wrote and directed the film.

Moviegoers don't really regard mere gun fighting as "violent" anymore, as most movie shootouts involve little more than people getting shot and not getting up. Shoot 'Em Up has plenty of that, but is a genuinely violent film, besides. It's reminiscent of both Sin City (but with color) and Kill Bill (with guns instead of swords), though it's not quite as explicitly violent as either. It has the good sense to cut away from some of the more gruesome deaths, and maintains an oddly jovial mood as a result.

There's a drive-by message about gun control that is hard to decipher. Is the film mocking gun control advocates, or parodying gun owners? As with the film itself, it's hard to tell when the serious elements are to be taken literally, and when they're intended as satire.

This movie will not "stay with you," inspire you, or win any awards not given out by MTV. Shoot 'Em Up sets its sights on the modest goal of simply being entertaining, and succeeds with room to spare.