Shoot 'em Up


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Why review it at all? Title says it all, doesn't it?


Apart from the failed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Shoot 'em Up may be the first movie which is truly post-post modernist. I suppose Pulp Fiction is a post-modernist film if for no other reason than it derives nothing from life first-hand. It is not a gangster movie about gangsters, ala Casino, but rather a gangster movie about fictional gangsters and other gangster movies. Sin City is similarly post-modernist in that it brings animation to a comic book which is not about real people in the real world, but essentially about comic book characters in their own plane of existence. Shoot em' Up removes the action one level further from reality. While Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Besson's films, Richie's films, and their many imitators function simultaneously as homages to and satires of pulp gangster stories, Shoot 'em Up functions as an homage to and satire of those very films! Its characters are so broad and its action so outrageous that Vince McMahon and Frank Miller would be envious. The best post-modernist films like Pulp Fiction and Sin City, while often funny, continued to take their storylines seriously and to include somber moments. Shoot 'em Up does not. It's on the high-wire of parody and is so surreal and over-the-top that it seems to be a screen incarnation of Jim Steranko's wildest fantasies about "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." The star, Clive Owen, even resembles Steranko's Fury, right down to the permanent stubble, lacking only the signature eyepatch to make the impersonation perfect. (The actual Fury character was played by David Hasselhoff in the lame official adaptation. It might have been a decent movie with Owen in the lead.)

Does it all work?


If you watch any individual scene in the film, you might find it wildly entertaining. Here are three examples:

  • Clive Owen has a shoot 'em up with some baddies while he midwifes a baby, cutting the umbilical cord with a well-placed bullet.
  • Clive Owen has a shoot 'em up with more baddies while he's having sex with Monica Bellucci, never withdrawing from her and bringing her to a climax as he blasts away. After capping the thugs, he also caps the action with a quip, James Bond style: "Talk about shooting your load."
  • Clive Owen has a shoot 'em Up with some baddies in mid air, after they all jump from a plane. After he reaches the ground safely, Clive walks through a field strewn with the bodies of his enemies, all fallen from the heavens, all dead before they hit the ground.

I could go on, but the rest of the list would consist of items similar to those above: outrageous, tongue-in cheek action battles with fewer nuances than a WWE rivalry, populated with comic book anti-heroes and villains. Owen does more smiting of his enemies than Yahweh.

The plot, such as it is, involves a corrupt Senator who needs a bone marrow transplant. Lacking the donors, he plans to  impregnate gazillions of woman and harvest the compatible bone marrow from his own offspring. He doesn't even plan to get the women pregnant the fun way, as Bill Clinton might do in the same situation. They are artificially inseminated.

As the film begins, Clive Owen, doing his usual neo-Bogart reluctant hero schtick, gets caught in between the Senator's minions and a woman about to give birth to one of the babies. The unshaven, angry Owen somehow ends up caring for the baby, enlisting the aid of a lactating hooker named DQ. (She's the baby's "Dairy Queen," get it?) An infinite supply of baddies comes after Clive, led by an evil genius named Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti), whose only vulnerability is that he's a henpecked husband whose wife continually objects when he comes home later than planned from a night of brutal slaughter and torture. Despite his brilliance, his ruthlessness, and his army of thugs, Mr. Hertz  is unable to rein in our hero for more than a few moments. By the end of the film Clive builds up a body count that must rival Stalin's.

I'm confident that if you watch any one scene from the film, you will get the urge to see the entire production, as I did. And yet when all of those scenes are strung together, the film tends to wear out its welcome, even at an economical running time. It's no simple task to write a review of such a film. Shoot 'em Up is the cinematic equivalent of eating an entire box of rich chocolates in one sitting - every bit of it is delicious, but the cumulative effect is a sense of being over-sated. It's witty and crazy and fun ... but it may be too much of a good thing, or maybe the same good thing too many times. How do you sum it all up when you love every scene in the film and find it all to be touched by mad genius, but just got tired of it after a while?

I guess I just did.


* Features not yet announced.





Critics leaned toward the positive, but were sharply divided, as you might expect in reaction to an over-the-top black comedy. Roger Ebert admired the film's audacity, while James Berardinelli started out enthralled by it, then found that it got old after about the first third of the film (two and a half stars).

Since the film was lensed in Toronto, it seems appropriate that the reviewer from the Toronto Star (two stars) summarized the film best:

"If John Woo had directed a Bugs Bunny cartoon written by the creators of South Park, the result might be something like Shoot `Em Up, but with a crucial difference: Bugs Bunny cartoons were always less than 10 minutes long."

2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
64 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
51 (of 100)


8.1 IMDB summary (of 10)
B Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It opened in sixth place, with a disappointing $5m in 2100 theaters.

Part of the film's disappointing performance is explained by the demographic breakdown at IMDb. It is rated 9.1 by kids under 18 - who can't get in to see it because of its R rating!



  • Ramona Pringle shows one breast (after her character dies!)
  • Monica Bellucci shows her breasts, but in a scene filled with motion and fast cuts, in which she tries to keep her chest pressed tightly against Clive Owen.
  • Variois breasts and buns are seen in a quick look through a bordello.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


If the description appeals to you, it is a film worth seeing because it is bold and funny. It would appeal especially to those who liked Sin City.