Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Movies: Shoot 'Em Up

I went to see this movie partially out of allegiance to my love for Monica Bellucci (first inspired by her performance in Malena, and strong enough to keep me sitting through Irreversible, although I did have to squeeze my eyes shut through much of the first half), partially out of my girlish admiration for Clive Owen (who has thrilled me since The Inside Man, particularly so when I saw him on the corner of Prince and Mercer a few weekends ago, and stifled my initial instinct to follow him into the cab he was hailing), and despite my loathing for Paul Giamatti (who has annoyed the hell out of me since the grossly over-rated Sideways (which made me ashamed of being a human being) and then all through American Splendor (yes, I saw them out of order)). Despite the bang-up cast, though (no pun intended), the film was a travesty, a brilliant exercise in American profligacy (of money and perhaps even more shamefully, of talent).

The film is based on the ludicrous concept (perhaps the concept of ludicrous-ness?) that a presidential candidate, in need of a transfusion from a willing, matching donor had set up a secret baby factory upstairs from a heavy metal club. The pregnant mothers, though, were systematically slain by someone who did not want that candidate to get his transfusion: that turns out to be the owner of a giant gun manufacturer (the candidate was running on the platform of gun control). Unfortunately for the gun manufacturer, one of the women, trying to escape, is intercepted by the renegade Smith (Owen), who is minding his own business at a trash-swept bus stop in the middle of the abandoned night, unshaven and in a black leather trench coat, crunching on a carrot, begrudgingly attempts to rescue her from the veritable army of gunmen pursuing her. During a ludicrous shoot-out in an abandoned warehouse, Owen manages to rescue the woman, deliver the baby, kill a ton of bad guys, and dodge the thousand bullets whizzing at him, with nothing but his carrot and the woman's pistol. On the way to safety, though, he realizes the woman's been shot dead (she looks like something my goth high school friends would have done to a Barbie doll). The baby's still alive, though, so, holding onto it like a parcel of cocaine (that is, carefully, but not really carefully enough), he dodges more gunfire on his way to the roof, off of which he jumps, crashing through the plate glass window of a neighboring apartment building, to safety.

We don't actually know anything about the candidate, or the gun manufacturer, until halfway through the movie, but I decided that it would make more sense (ha!) if I told you that part up front. Owen tries to ditch the baby a few times, but every time he does, someone shows up, trying to shoot it; thus, his hero mechanism is re-engaged, and he does what any unshaven, leather trench coat wearing, raw carrot-eating hero would do: he takes the baby to the whorehouse, where Monica Bellucci, vamping à la Jessica Rabbit, collects money to wet-nurse men with infantalization fantasies. Smith, it seems, was one of her old clients (although we get the impression that he takes his sex straight up). She refuses his role of five Gs in exchange for the task, but after he leaves, taking the baby along, the disgustingly evil (mind you, he was disgusting as a nice guy, too) Paul Giamatti shows up with a pistol, shoots up the place, and gives our darling whore a few pistol burns on her perfect inner thighs (the idea that a Monica Bellucci creature would ever accept this kind of treatment from a Paul Giamatti creature? As ludicrous as the idea that a lioness would sit around while a hyena gnawed at her leg). Before the filthy man can insert the filthy gun into her panting orifice (because he's clearly headed in that direction), Smith returns to the rescue, and the new "family" escapes, after quite a bit more exchanged gunfire.

And so it goes, the three running hither and thither (to a gun shop for provisions, to Smith's home, a post-Soho, post-urban, reclaimed abandoned loft space in which he grows his own carrots, and then to a tank: the only place where Smith is certain Baby and Mommy will be safe while he goes out hunting bad guys), each scene interspersed with grandiose gun battles in which Smith, an army of one, vanquishes armies of fifty and one hundred mercenary-type gunmen (in one particularly ludicrous scene, inside the gun manufacturer's warehouse, he rigs dozens of weapons to fire on a pulley system, and then implements the system to wreck quick and dirty havoc on his enemy). Giamatti's character, not the candidate, nor the gun executive, but simply a sort of hired mercenary himself (Chief Operating Officer of sorts, it seems), continually fields calls from his wife on his cell phone in the midst of gun battles, assuring her that he will be home in time for his son's birthday party (spoiler: he doesn't make it), and we are never clear on why he is so bent on killing both the baby and therefore Smith, aside from the promise of some financial gain, and, more importantly, his filthy ego. It's enough, though, that he's filthy evil (as are his cohorts) for us to respond with glee as Smith riddles his team full of bullets and, yes, pointy carrots (once through the eye-socket, which I think is only questionably fatal, but definitely unpleasant either way).

I've made concessions for other films with absurd plots, excessive gunfire, and culted infants, so long as they featured redeeming aesthetics. This movie, though, however stylized, is less redeemingly-so than annoyingly-so. It is hyper-pulpy, which is something that I usually appreciate (loved the look of Sin City), but it is not originally so, nor is it intellectually self-conscious. More a Cinemax interpretation of post-modernity than an HBO realization, Monica's simpering is too soft-core, and Giamatti's lubricious evil sickens rather than delights. Owen comes off the best, but considering his company, that's not saying much.

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