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Action:
The Action Movie A-Z
by Marshall Julius
(In Paperback from Amazon)
. "Shoot 'Em Up"

Instead of adapting a movie from a comic script, this is a case of a live action movie being a comic strip. The title tells you as much, so don't blame writer-director Michael Davis. His dime adventure has all the =>POW<= and =>SOCKO<= features to grip the 11-year old boy in us, with more bullets expended per frame than a war documentary. I wouldn't have wanted to foot the ammo budget. In any event, it's that rare genre, crime-comedy-fantasy (and future video game?), and it's great fun... until it gets tedious.

A man named Smith (Clive Owen), a nom de guerre probably derived from "gunsmith," sits on a bench one night, sipping his coffee and minding his own business. A pregnant woman streaks across the screen, running as though her life depended on it. She ducks into an alley just in time for a gang of pursuers to see and to follow. For some reason, Smith sides with the lady.

Pretty soon he's showing off his skills, putting away the goons with martial arts, evading bullets, robbing a fresh corpse of his weapon, hiding the woman and, when she starts going into labor, delivering her of a healthy, screaming baby boy.

In a clash with the ringleader Hertz (Paul Giamatti), Smith thinks he's won the upper hand when he disarms him of his very large and silvery handgun, but for some reason Hertz doesn't act like he's threatened in any way. In fact, this psycho is amused, especially when the vigilante tries to fire the weapon and finds it doesn't. It's a state-of-the-art, not-yet-released high-tech firearm from Hammerson Gunworks that reads the shooter's thumbprint, allowing only the registered user to fire. The chase continues, the new mom is shot to death, and Smith once again escapes, only with her baby in tow.

We are now embroiled into a twisty-turny chase upon chase race in which Hertz never admits defeat and calls up platoons of men to die before Smith's superior odds of agility, speed and as much superhumanity as any action hero proves him impossible to hit. This guy just doesn't like the taste of lead.

A running gag is Hertz constantly being called by his wife about coming home, which he repeatedly assures her is iminent. As soon as he "finishes some business," always misjudging the time it will take to put his unknown pest away. "Okay, I'll admit it, he's pretty good."

What unfolds is the full scope of Smith's prior training and Hertz's need to kill the baby in order to preserve a senator's term in office (don't ask me, see the movie). But it gets pretty personal for both when Smith takes up with old squeeze and favorite prostitute Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci) whose lips could sink ships; and Hertz turning into a raving lunatic over his inability to sink Smith. Hertz keeps his game face and slimy villainy going at all times and well over the top.

As a veteran fan of action films and of all three leads (Owen, Bellucci, Giammati) I have to say I'm not so much disappointed as doubtful about its value to them or to audiences. The meal doesn't merit its ingredients. It has some of the clever pastiche of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and the sleaze intrigue of Sam Spade by Dashiel Hammett, but without the plot genius or meaning of either. Still, I have to admit, it has all the earmarks of a guilty pleasure that has to be seen to be believed.

The amazing thing for a non-stop action piece like this is that its 88 minutes, which should seem like 10 with this much lead flying, is so repetitive it becomes as tiresome as a bad sermon. Maybe that's what it is, but for which denomination of church I couldn't say. Davis, an admitted action movie fan extraordinaire, has said publically that he made the movie he always wanted to. We're happy for him.

"3:10 To Yuma" is more my cup of ballistics.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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Clive Owen as Smith
Unhittable hero.

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