Shoot 'Em Up is the best cartoon I've seen in years.
I don't mean "cartoon" as in "animated movie". Shoot 'Em Up is a live-action movie that takes all the absurdity, violence, and humor of the old school Warner Brothers cartoons to the logical extreme and then some.
We meet our hero (Clive Owen, pure badass charisma), Mr. Smith, in extreme close-up. It's a perfect Sergio Leone moment…until Smith starts noisily eating a carrot. As Smith sits at a bus stop, a heavily pregnant woman, obviously in the throes of labor and clearly terrified, goes by, followed closely by a skanky hit man. Before the hit man can kill the woman, Smith kills the hit man, then helps the woman deliver the baby. More hit men arrive, led by Mr. Hertz (a delightfully hideous Paul Giamatti), and soon the mother is dead and Smith has charge of the baby. When Smith's conscience and Hertz's pursuit make abandoning the baby an unviable option, Smith enlists the help of a lactating prostitute (Monica Bellucci lends some nice va-voom to the shenanigans) to act as caretaker and wet nurse while he tries to find out why a huge parade of hit men want the baby dead.
It can be difficult as hell to mix comedy with genres such as action or horror. For every Slither or Return of the Living Dead there are a dozen or more miserable failures. Shoot 'Em Up nearly always finds the right balance (such as the aforementioned opening shot), and doesn't wear out its running jokes (Owen's carrot-munching, Giamatti being pestered by his wife via cell phone). Writer/director Michael Davis keeps things moving right along, always tossing in just enough story to keep things rolling – the plot maneuvers won't stand up to intense scrutiny, but like Quentin Tarantino's movies, Shoot 'Em Up lives in its own little cartoon world and plays by its own rules. It's a world where death-by-carrot can and does happen.
The cartoon comparison is apt, for the movie is essentially Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd. The references are obvious (Owen says, "What's up, doc?" at one point, Giamatti calls him a "wascally wabbit") and subtle (Giamatti's cell phone ringtone is "Ride of the Valkyries", familiar to many as the "kill the wabbit" song). Owen and Giamatti's dialogue exchanges often have a "duck season/rabbit season" feel to them. All that's missing is a scene in which Giamatti has his face blackened by a shotgun backfire and for Owen to dress in drag.
Nearly everything works as it should. Mr. Smith is essentially a redux of Owen's role from Sin City, but he's great so who cares. Giamatti is obviously having the time of his life as a clever but utterly nasty man – his intelligence makes his character a formidable foe, and his unremarkable appearance is the film's most realistic touch (real-life hit men – the successful ones, at least – blend into the woodwork). Bellucci doesn't have much acting to do, but she's lovely to look at and provides the closest thing the movie has to a moral character. My only complaint is that some of the action is filmed too closely, so it's difficult to tell sometimes exactly what's going on. You get the general idea though ("mayhem ensues").
Those looking for logic, adherence to the laws of the physics, warm 'n' fuzzy characters, and good taste should go see a different movie. But for those who want a damn good time with lots of guns, explosions, and humor, Shoot 'Em Up will satisfy and then some.