Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Blame this one on the Bill of Rights

By A. O. SCOTT  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

In Shoot 'Em Up, Clive Owen, left, protects a baby whose bone marrow is supposed to further the cause of gun control.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS

"S o what do you think of the Second Amendment now?" This is one of many thought-provoking questions asked, between barrages of gunfire, in the course of Shoot 'Em Up. I won't answer the question here - I get enough angry e-mail, thanks - but I'm happy to affirm my general devotion to the whole Bill of Rights, in particular the First Amendment, which protects Michael Davis's right to make this movie, New Line Cinema's right to market it and, best of all, my right to tell you what a worthless piece of garbage it is. (I interrupt this burst of patriotism to note that Shoot 'Em Up was filmed in Toronto.)

First, let's sample a bit more wisdom from the mouth of the movie's hero, Smith, a righteous gunman played, with his usual charismatic glower, by Clive Owen. The person who profits, he advises, apropos of unraveling a nefarious conspiracy involving a US senator, a firearms manufacturer, a lot of diapers and Paul Giamatti, is always the bad guy. Which leaves me off the hook, since not only did I not profit from Shoot 'Em Up, but I also lost 93 minutes I will never see again.

What I did see was Owen doing, as he did in the incalculably superior Children of Men, his utmost to protect a baby. Awwww. Sitting on a bench one evening, minding his business, Smith witnesses bad guys pursuing a pregnant woman. After a pause during which the person sitting next to me at the preview screening loudly beseeched Smith to help her, he did just that, dispatching a warehouse full of thugs and delivering a healthy infant.

The mother, sadly, took a bullet in the head, but her baby - it's a boy, by the way - turned out to be pretty resilient. Wouldn't you be if you had Monica Bellucci for a wet nurse?

Bellucci plays Donna Quintano, a lactating prostitute. That is not a sentence I thought I'd ever write, but I'm sure Bellucci feels the same way about some of her lines, like, "Does this give you any new ideas about who wants Oliver's bone marrow?" Excellent question!

Oliver is the baby, by the way, and his bone marrow is needed to further the cause of gun control. Or to thwart the cause of gun control. In New Line's press notes, Davis is quoted as saying that, in conceiving Shoot 'Em Up, that "the hard part was to figure out the mystery and rationale as to why the bad guys want the baby."

That task is no easier now that the movie has been made, though "made" (to say nothing of "movie") is perhaps too generous a word for this slapdash assembly of hectic, poorly shot action sequences, lame catchphrases (tell me Owen didn't say, "What's up, Doc?"), sadistic gags and heavy-metal tunes. The body count is astronomical as Owen shoots 'em up while rappelling down a stairwell, driving a BMW and feigning intercourse with Bellucci. (Not all at once, by the way. Now that would be cool.) Also, he drives a carrot through the back of one man's head and uses another one to put out an eye.

Which is funny because, you know, carrots are supposed to improve your eyesight. That's about the level of wit to which Shoot 'Em Up aspires. Smith, described by Donna as "the angriest man in the world," is full of large and small complaints, usually prefaced by "You know what I hate?" Again with the questions! He hates aggressive drivers and so forces one off the road. He hates the corporal punishment of children and so gives a guilty mom a spanking. He even hates guns, which is why he shoots down scores of bit players.

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