Allow Michael Davis’s frothingly enthusiastic, fiendishly over-the-top directorial debut this much: By the time carrot-chiseling sharpshooter Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) perforates a pitiable goon’s brainstem with an especially pointy helping of beta-carotene (roundabout five minutes in, as I recall) and punctuates the performance with a growly “Eat your vegetables,” Shoot ’Em Up’s shown you precisely what you’re in for.
“People ask about `the carrot`,” says Davis matter-of-factly, as if it’s curious that an action hero who dispatches no fewer than five armed men with an edible taproot should draw questions. “You have to have good eyesight to shoot, right? So, therefore, carrots.”
Pragmatic enough. And Davis, to be sure, is the planning type.
“They always give the weird stuff, or the quirky stuff, to the character actors,” he continues. “That’s why everybody remembers the secondary characters being more interesting than the straight-man hero guy … I always feel it’s important, if you have something funny, give it to the hero ... The carrot thing became naturally that, but then it became sort of like his gadget. He doesn’t have, you know, the ‘Q’-like gadgets, but he can reach for something with the carrot, to get his gun when it’s out of reach.”
This is how Davis’s mind works.
“And then, later on, after I had that idea, I said, ‘Well, why doesn’t he kill somebody with it?’”
Correction: That’s how it works.
Seated restlessly in his suite at Austin’s Driskill Hotel, Davis bears a striking resemblence to a younger, stockier Spielberg — nearly as much, perhaps, for his guileless exuberance and film-fanaticism as for his bearded, bespectacled (and, let’s face it, inescapably Spielbergean) mug. A self-described “Bond nut” (“Q” = Desmond Llewelyn, not “The Winged Serpent”), he gushes about Hardboiled and Desperado, and it begins to make perfect sense that Shoot ’Em Up — in which Owen blasts a newborn baby and “specialty prostitute” (don’t ask) to safety — somewhat approximates a Robert Rodriguez-directed 007 outing. (“I should be so lucky,” says Davis of the comparison.)
Deep it ain’t, cartoonish it is, but Shoot is certainly fun, and peppered with calculated, eye-bugging originality: A skydiving gunfight, an unforgettable bit of business with an umbilical cord, and what Davis terms “the perfect union of sex and violence in the cinema” are among five or six scenes that, if nothing else, should secure some serious cult-classic cred.
“That’s how it kind of works,” he says. “‘I’ve never seen that before!’ I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but at least it’s not an old idea.” •