What makes a bad movie entertaining? An action extravaganza with the title 'Shoot Em Up' could provide the answer. After watching its trailer and reading its absurd plot synopsis, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for -- so why was I grinning clear through to the end credits?
In 'Shoot Em Up,' the mysterious Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) saves a pregnant woman from a group of gun-toting thugs and delivers her baby before she dies. Enlisting the aid of a lactating prostitute (Monica Bellucci), Smith goes on the lam with his new "family" in an attempt to avoid a ruthless hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his colleagues. As Smith uncovers the truth behind the baby's paternity, he stumbles onto a conspiracy involving an aging politician, a baby harvesting scheme, and a firearms manufacturer. You got all that?
'Shoot Em Up' may not have any redeeming social value, but it’s tremendously proud of its brazen, amoral compass. The violence is gratuitous, the action is unrelenting, and the plot appears to have been meticulously crafted to make each development more offensive than the last, but it handles its fun, comicbook action with style. Bullets swarm like killer bees, explosions take on a life of their own, and over-the-top stuntwork puts a very tart cherry on top of this cinematic sundae. While it lacks the remarkable dialogue of 'Sin City' or the arthouse cinematography of '300,' the film’s action is so perfectly choreographed, so frantic, and so reckless in its disregard for the laws of physics that it occasionally reminded me of those higher caliber films.
Simply put, it does what it does well. Clive Owen is a whirling vortex of destruction, Giamatti would make an amazing Joker in a parallel universe (where Heath Ledger hadn’t snagged the part), and for once, Bellucci is more than just window dressing. The actors clearly had such a good time making the flick that I found myself buying into the hectic universe they inhabit.
But for all of my smiles and laughs, the story still left a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the characters are so mean-spirited and ill-tempered that I had a hard time rooting for anyone other than the baby caught in the midst of the madness. The supporting cast is also hit-or-miss. I never knew what to expect from scene to scene, and the end result often feels like a clumsy combination of three different films. Worst of all, the third act and the ending are too absurd to be satisfying on any level. As the flick swirls down the drain towards its convoluted ending, it forgets to develop the story or the characters.
In the end, an inane film like 'Shoot Em Up' certainly won't have intellectuals lining up around the block, but it provides action junkies with a quick shot of adrenaline that's entertaining and fun. Is it a great film? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But anyone willing to turn off their brain and dive head first into a pulpy piece of modern noir will probably have a good time.
'Shoot Em Up' hits the ground running with a sharp 1080p/VC-1 transfer. Although blue tones have been suppressed, the film's palette is bold and stable, with splashes of orange and red adding to the film’s comic book style. Blacks are inky, whites never bloom, and the contrast is exceptionally strong. The level of fine detail is the transfer’s real selling point. Textures are so crisp that elements like skin and hair have a startling three-dimensional appearance, clearly showcasing the major visual upgrades high definition has to offer.
Film purists will be happy to see that New Line didn't use DNR with this transfer as they did recently with 'Pan's Labyrinth.' 'Shoot Em Up' has a light grain that's visible at all times, and the image never suffers from waxy faces or smeared detail. The only possible complaints might be a few bursts of digital noise and a series of yellowed skintones. However, it seems both issues are intentional effects that shouldn't be mistaken for problems with the transfer itself. Anyone who enjoys the director's visual aesthetic will be extremely satisfied with the high-quality efforts of this striking transfer.
'Shoot Em Up' includes a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that features one of the most chaotic mixes I've ever experienced. Bullets, explosions, screams, shattering glass, splintering wood, ricochets, sparks -- there isn't one essential action-movie sound effect that makes less than a dozen appearances. To its credit, the DTS-HD MA track handles everything in stride. Dynamics are fierce, with bottomless bass rumbles and steady treble tones. The characters sound larger than life and their voices are never lost under the roar of the violence. Better still, the rear surrounds are used to their full potential -- I challenge anyone to call the soundfield flat or uninvolving. The movie itself may not hook everyone, but the surround track is as immersive as they come.
New Line brings 'Shoot Em Up' to Blu-ray with high definition versions of all the significant special features included on the standard DVD. The studio has even put together a PiP commentary that I'll discuss in the next section. The only pseudo-supplement that's MIA is a PC enabled bonus which allows users to watch the DVD on their computer while viewing behind-the-scenes photos as well as the original screenplay.
It may be crap through and through, but 'Shoot Em Up' can be quite entertaining when approached with the proper mindset. Thankfully this Blu-ray release is another commendable high-def experience from New Line. A stunning transfer, an excellent DTS HD MA audio track, and a wealth of supplements make this an easy purchase for fans.