“Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” Understatement’s a dirty word in Shoot ’Em Up, as writer/director Michael Davis boils his uproarious action flick down to bare essentials: violence and sex. Unlike the lily-livered Smokin’ Aces, Davis’ deceptively stupid bullet-ballet actually follows through on its promise of porny guns and gunny porn.
The hand-cannon part of that equation is Mr Smith (Clive Owen), a carrot-munching, perma-scowling, crack-shot good Samaritan who, in the tone-setting opener, saves an about-to-pop pregnant woman by acrobatically massacring Paul Giamatti’s henchmen. It leaves your ears ringing, your eyes bulging and kicks off a riot in your ribcage. And then it gets really silly.
Stuck holding the hungry baby, Smith heads to DQ (Monica Bellucci, playing the Madame Exposition role), a buxom hooker who supplies nappy-clad clients with their lactose fix. Soon, this unlikely threesome is on the run, trying to solve the mystery surrounding the new-born bairn. Along the way, Smith slaughters a never-ending train of faceless goons at regular intervals in wildly inventive ways. Every time you think, “Surely they won’t…” they do. Picture Rambo with a sense of its own ridiculousness and you’re most of the way there.
Davis’ script has a wicked glint in its eye (“I’m a British nanny,” Owen deadpans, “and I’m dangerous”). But it also wobbles precariously along the razorblade tightrope of cliché, occasionally getting its feet sliced. Meanwhile, connoisseurs of such incidentals as ‘characterisation’, ‘plotting’ and ‘emotional depth’ should turn back now. The biggest letdown, though, is that despite a smouldering Owen and sensuous Bellucci, there’s a curious lack of sex appeal.
But Davis’ commitment to going completely OTT reaps other rewards: namely the kind of big, sloppy grin that comes from an adrenalised, testosteroned kicking-in of taste and subtlety’s back doors. Armed with a full chamber of guilty fun and an itchy trigger-finger, Shoot ’Em Up – within its narrow cartoon confines – hits the target.