The worst thing about Shoot 'Em Up is the unmemorable title. While it is appropriately obvious and dumb to describe the movie, it's not quite stylized enough. It needs a title as instantly recognizable as Snakes on a Plane. "Killed in 60 Seconds" might have worked better, or "Absolutely Everyone Dies." After all, in twenty years, I doubt people will rent (or stream from the collective iConscious) similarly-titled and utterly forgettable movies, like Brandon Lee's Rapid Fire, that used to populate my local Blockbuster's Super-Action aisle. But they still should see Shoot 'Em Up, because it is quite simply the dumbest, most violent action-comedy that has ever been made. As an action-comedy connoisseur, I don't say that lightly.
Clive Owen plays Smith, a man with no real name or motivation except for a talent for killing people and an obvious enjoyment of doing so, much like the movie he inhabits. Monica Belucci plays a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, cursing delightfully in Italian; Paul Giamatti plays the murderous genius bad guy. Giamatti's great, and everyone else from the stars to the extras is fine until they die, except for Belluci and Owen, who are nearly the only people to manage to make it intact from their introduction on screen to the end of the movie.
Writer-director Michael Davis clearly lit a few votive candles at the altar of John Woo before he created his action shootout scenes. The opening scene, in which Owen spills a can of oil and slides, pirouetting with a pistol, for nearly a minute, could have been an homage to The Replacement Killers, or maybe Face/Off. No, seriously. That scene, and other extended action setpieces involve so many extras (that is, future corpses), props, breakaway backgrounds, and meticulous choreography of the principals that the shoot must have practically been like stop-motion.
The movie is funny not because of the jokes, which are utterly and probably intentionally godawful, but because the action sequences are really elaborately orchestrated sight gags, using bullets as inventively as George Washington Carver used peanuts. (Though I imagine Carver never used a goober to sever a baby's umbilical cord.) In particular, there's a sex scene that's also one of the film's bloodier action scenes that may well have been the reason the movie was greenlighted. It's a bit like the scene in Romeo Must Die where Jet Li fights by swinging Aaliyah at his enemy as though she were nunchucks, if Jet Li were having sex with Aaliyah while fighting. This scene is easily the best reason to see the movie, and the reason that this movie will come up in casual conversation forever. "Don't rob that house if they're having sex! Remember that scene in Shoot 'Em Up?"
Of course, it cannot be stressed highly enough that this movie is very possibly the dumbest movie you'll ever see. (You'll note that I haven't mentioned a word about the plot. I made that decision quite advisedly.) I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. It's more violent and makes less sense than most video games. It makes Duke Nukem seem like Das Kapital. The relentless completeness of the director's vision, the obsessive perfection of its extremeness, the full realization that this movie will probably never be topped for dumbness or action in its subgenre of dumb action-comedies, make this movie one for the ages. It's not for everyone -- really, it couldn't be less for everyone -- but it's a movie for which you can be almost certain that if you think you'd like it, you will, and if you think you wouldn't, you won't. Given that Hollywood's a place where, as William Goldman once said, "Nobody knows anything," that's a rare luxury indeed. So take advantage of it! Don't forget to ask for the buttery topping.