Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up/The Brave One

"Guns Don't Kill People....But It Sure Does Help!"

"The Angriest Man in the World," Mr. Smith is sitting on a street bench in a squalid part of town. He's inrtoduced with a Leone-style close-up of only his eyes. Then, cut to his face. It's Clive Owen in full wide-eyed coma look. He brings a carrot up to his face and loudly crunches into it.

What's Up, Doc?

Well, it's certainly not anybody's IQ.

Next, a very pregnant woman runs past him (shot none too elegantly), followed by a speeding car that noisily and gratuitously slams into another car, trapping the driver. He gets out the passenger door, spewing paper and fast-food bags and garbage out of his car onto the street.

There..right there...maybe two minutes into the film is the only amusing idea in the whole movie. And it was only amusing to me because it reminded me of my car.

But that's it--the only thing I enjoyed in the entire film, no help from director Michael Davis. In the sums-it-up "Shoot 'Em Up," Clive Owen's "Mr. Smith" finds himself charged with protecting a baby, just like "Children of Men," but without all that boring social commentary and stuff. With the help of a lactating prostitute (Monica Belluci, shot through a vaseline-greased lens, and utilizing the time-honored 60's-style "Bad Italian Actress" technique), Smith and child evade Mr. Hertz (a bug-eyed Paul Giamatti, reminding me that it was only a few years ago that he starred in stuff "Big, Fat Liar") who has an infinite number of disposable goons, with an infinite number of bullets that seem predisposed to not hit anything, while Smith's gun hits something (usually lethally) every time.

"Shoot 'Em Up" tries to align itself with the Warner Bros. cartoons of Bugs and Elmer but has not the wit, the style or the precise timing (Giamatti starts the movie with a Merrie Melodies lisp, but inexplicably drops it a few minutes in). I was really hoping that at some point Owen would hit him in the face with a frying pan, so we'd see Mr. Hertz's face flatten out, but no such luck. And, of course, after every set-piece or innovative killing technique (Smith kills with a carrot--twice) there are the inevitable one-liners that haven't been so eye-rollingly bad since Roger Moore was James Bond, with all the sophistication of the chat-room droolings of pre-teens. After a simultaneous shoot-out and screw where both participants reach their ...climax, Owen turns to the camera and in his best Terminator-in-Chief drone says, "That's what I call shooting your wad." But then there's "Eat Your Vegetables.." (after a carrot-killing), "That's what I call a hand-job," and the immortal "Fuck you, you fuckin' fuckers!" That kind of lummoxy aside reached its satiric punch-line with the antics of "McBain" on "The Simpsons," but it gives me hope that someday I can get just such a writing job. At the end, Belluci looks at Owen and says "What took you so long?" I half expected the lame-ass line that ended Robert Altman's "The Player:" "Traffic was a bitch."

According to this flick, there's nothing worse than "a pussy with a gun." I dunno, how about "a pussy with a movie camera but without an original idea in his head, a lick of talent, or the smarts God gave a radish?" Yeah. That's worse. A lot worse.

"Shoot "em Up" is a complete Waste of Time.
Oof. Talk about your awkward segues.

"The Angriest Woman in the World" Erica Bain by the end of "The Brave One" is in the same mode: "Who's the Bitch now?" she screams as she mows down one of the men who beat her into a coma, killed her fiancee...and stole her dog. Not only does she get her revenge, but she gets her dog back (oh...spoiler alert!), so everything's all right, right?

Never mind that for the preceding two hours--that feel like four--she's bided her time by capping the asses of whatever scum of the earth crossed her path. At least she's an equal opportunity vigilante: one group's Latino, another is black, and three separate white guys--bonus points for the rich one.

Were I John Hinckley, I'd stay in prison.

The critical rags are calling this "Dirty Harriet,"* but that's all wrong. Its the daughter of "Death Wish," the Charles Bronson viscerally charged revenge-actioner with the same formula and practically the same resolution--except with a gun rather than the earlier film's non-cinematic plea-bargaining. Erica is a radio-journalist--well, an audio-documentarian, whose love affair (and experience) with New York extends as far as her ear-buds, spinning chatty little stories about the "myth" of old New York, and what gentrification is taking away. Tellingly, one of the first things we see her doing is recording her own foot-steps as she walks the city streets. From there, she goes to her little iso-booths and spins her valentines to "the safest big city in the world" (except it's missing a couple of buildings downtown, and not to gentrification). After the attack, she's even more isolating, and butches up her wardrobe, symbolically shedding her skin to become a new person that she doesn't know or understand. Oh, and there's that shooting-people-in-subways thing. "Inside you is a stranger," she narrates to herself. "Why don't my hands shake? Why doesn't anyone stop me?" Pretty soon she's doing it not because she's threatened, but because she can, and in a perverse cat-and-mouse game strikes up a friendship with detective Terrence Howard, who is feeling increasingly powerless to stop the newly-empowered vigilante messing up his mean streets. I came away thinking "never give Terry Gross a gun."

Of all people, Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game," "Interview with a Vampire") directs this,** and his way of showing fear and Erica's world out of whack is with slowly tilting shots with a steadicam (with its gyroscope knocked out), which made me think we were heading for the Penguin's dastardly bird-themed lair. It's a little tough to take this stuff seriously when it reminds you of the old "Batman" show. About the only pleasure in the film is the beyond-cynical banter of Howard and his partner investigating the crime scenes (My favorites: "Guy had a rap sheet longer than my dick" "No priors?" and "Any idea what killed him?" "Could be the fall--could be the crowbar stuck in his head--I'm thinkin' 70/30, maybe 50/50"). And a tiny scene with a police desk-clerk who routinely mantras "I know how difficult it can be, but if you will be patient and have a seat an officer will be down shortly to help you." It makes the same point about institutional disinterest in 20 seconds that it takes the whole of "In the Valley of Elah" to make.

And the acting. Even with this type of material, Foster takes it right down to her marrow, until she no longer looks like the same person. There is a terrific scene of her and Howard in a diner not talking about what they're talking about while "You Don't Know Me" echoes over the PA that's very well done.

Wish it were in another movie.

"The Brave One" is a cable-flick.

* "Dirty Harry," the police-as-vigilante movie was co-written by Rita Fink.

** Yes, but Joel Silver produces. That might be the answer.

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