'Shoot' first, ask questions later

Who needs a story that makes any sense when you've got guys jumping out of airplanes and having a mid-air gunfight?

That's the philosophy behind the new action spoof "Shoot 'Em Up," starring Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti as gun-happy freaks in pursuit of a very valuable baby. Though it has no real characters and a completely nonsensical plot, it is a welcome respite from other uber-violent movies like "300" that are itself parodies and don't even realize it.

"Shoot 'Em Up" is a 90-minute exercise in increasingly over-the-top action scenes that are strung together by the barest of threads. For once, it is nice to see a movie that freely admits that all the downtime scenes in between the action are nothing more than paper thin set-ups to get the pawns (characters) into place for the next battle.

At one point, an evil undercover operative is speaking over a headset and unknowingly spills the beans to Owen, hiding nearby, with exposition so obvious and full of details that he could be reading newscopy. Giamatti's villainous Hertz is somehow able to guess every next move that Owen's hero (known only as SmithÂthe perfect ordinary name for a clearly unordinary guy) will make. Like any dumb action movie, though, there is a qualifying explanation. In this case, Giamatti's henchman mumbles something about his former job in police forensics. There are some movies where things just feel right, and there are others that don't. Those that don't always have some kind of lame excuse, and "Shoot 'Em Up" makes that point very hilariously.

Movie

Shoot 'Em Up ** 1/2

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Clive Owen, as sharpshooter Mr. Smith, helps a woman deliver her baby with one hand while fending off a bevy of bad guys gunning for the infant with the other in this parody of a genre that wasn't all that deserving of parody: the mindless, John Woo-style cornucopia of carnage. Looking for plot amid this over-the-top action flick is also pointless.

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Obviously, there needs to be an extremely hot woman involved in a movie with this much testosterone. But how would she fit in? It would be too smart for a satire to have her be one of Quentin Tarantino's ass-kicking girl power types. Wait, I've got itÂshe could be the old tried and true "hooker with a heart of gold." Enter Monica Belluci as said hooker. Unfortunately, like her stereotype, there isn't much more for her to do than look great and act demure and motherly.

The only problems arise when writer/director Michael Davis tries to have it both ways. Earlier this year, the superior "Hot Fuzz" showed how that can be done, albeit rarely. "Shoot 'Em Up" doesn't want you to care about its stereotypes (characters) very often, but the dialogue is not nearly as clever as it needs to be, and sometimes it seems as if he's actually trying to pull a heartstring or two. Davis usually snaps out of it pretty quickly, though, like in a love scene between Owen and Bellucci that doesn't stop when gun-wielding goons break in.

"Shoot 'Em Up" is also not above lampooning movies' tendencies to downplay the most elaborate set-up in the worldÂlike how long it would take our hero to construct an automated fake baby with rubbery skin, moving parts and a voiceboxÂand all off-camera, of course, as if we weren't paying attention.

The funniest part of all of this bang bang blustery is that the movie is trying to convince us that it actually advocates gun control. Owen is pulled into a conspiracy that has something to do with a massive sperm bank, a heavy metal club, killers-for-hire, a huge corporate gun manufacturer and a presidential candidate running on an anti-gun platform.

While letting us scratch that primal itch for gun violence in the silliest of ways, Davis is also trying to subtly pull a fast one on us, so that we realize guns are really bad in the real world and can actually kill. All the while we can sit back and enjoy watching gratuitous cartoonish violence as bullets zigzag around the screen, always just missing the good guy and hitting hundreds of bad guys.

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