Having inherited the mantle of the serial killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) tries to cover his tracks while executing yet another elaborate torture scheme and staying one step ahead of FBI agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) who survived his previous encounter with Jigsaw but may not be so lucky this time around. Like so many horror franchises of recent (and not-so-recent) vintage -- Halloween Friday the 13th A Nightmare on Elm Street -- the latest Saw doesn’t deviate from the formula. Endlessly repeating the same rudimentary elements may spell big bucks at the box-office forked over by the Saw faithful but even die-hard fans will be hard-pressed to find something even remotely new or inventive here. In what must be an effort to mix things up screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan revise (i.e. screw around with) some of the earlier film’s plot twists with “new” flashbacks that offer different perspectives than was first depicted. If this is intended to provide surprise to the well-worn storyline it isn’t successful. It only makes a murky story even murkier. Jigsaw may have met his end at the conclusion of Saw IV but Tobin Bell is all over the place this time around seen either in flashback or on television screens. With his menacing whispery delivery Bell can hardly be accused of sleepwalking through his role but one suspects that the basic enticements for him here were top billing -- and the paycheck that goes along with it. The beefy Mandylor skulks his way through the one-dimensional role of Hoffman while Patterson brings a bit of intensity to his role as the dogged Strahm. Betsy Russell fondly remembered as a teen B-movie queen of the 1980s (Private School Avenging Angel) plays Jigsaw’s ex-wife while Meagan Good and Julie Benz (in an ill-fitting black wig) portray two of the latest “players” in the latest Jigsaw puzzle. Shawnee Smith Angus MacFadyen and Danny Glover who all met their onscreen ends in previous installments make token flashback appearances here -- to no discernible effect. Mark Hackl the production designer of Saw II – IV who was originally tapped to direct the fourth installment now makes his directorial debut. As one might expect he retains the decayed urban design of the previous films (which he of course designed) and there are the requisite gallons of gore and guts for those who enjoy that sort of thing. What would the Saw films be without such visceral pleasantries? But for all the technical ingenuity of some of the lethal booby traps there’s a distinct dullness to the proceedings. Saw V is appropriately gruesome but it’s not particularly exciting or suspenseful. As a Halloween scare-fest it’s all trick and no treat … and yes the door is left wide open for another installment. Enough’s enough already.
Oh boy does it ever! From the opening sequence in which Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) inadvertently helps an ultimately doomed woman deliver her baby amid a hail of bullets and then severs the umbilical chord by shooting it you get a pretty clear picture of what you’re in for here. Smith may be the “angriest man in the world ” but he’s also a fairly chivalrous one. Once he has the little tyke in his possession he has no other choice but to protect it from an endless stream of assailants--led by the sadistic Hertz (Paul Giamatti)--engaging in every conceivable permutation of gunfight. Smith even teams up with a prostitute (Monica Bellucci) whose specialty is catering to those men with a fetish for suckling on lactating breasts. She proves very useful in this scenario. Question is why does everyone want this baby dead? Trust me the explanation is stupid and superfluous; it’s the 80-minute shooting gallery that makes this actioner fly. Even though Clive Owen is absolutely spot-on as the hardboiled antihero Mr. Smith the actor must be able to do it in his sleep by now having basically played the same role in films such as Inside Man and Children of Men. And along with Children of Men he’s now pretty good at assisting a woman in childbirth too. Still we love it when he shoots a gun. Giamatti is the one who goes out on a limb in Shoot ‘Em Up. When casting a cold-blooded vicious killer the sweet sad sack from Sideways isn’t your immediate image. Ah but that’s what makes Giamatti such a consummate actor. Flashing a Cheshire cat-like grin and armed with an arsenal of one-liners he doesn’t downplay his nerdy appearance but rather relishes it playing Hertz as far over the top as he can possibly get without looking completely ridiculous—which allows him to say things like “Well f**k me sideways ” with a straight face. Giamatti is a real treat. Bellucci on the other hand is fairly wasted. She’s obviously there to add a feminine touch--being able to feed the baby and all—as well as have raucous sex with our leading man. But her character doesn’t really add anything else to the proceedings. Writer/director Michael Davis really hasn’t had his shot (pun intended) yet. Moving up from the B-movies (anyone heard of Monster Man or Girl Fever?) Davis finally gets to show some of his stuff with Shoot ‘Em Up. Obviously influenced by the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantinos of the filmmaking world Davis crafts a thrilling action-packed film shot in that gritty style so popular these days. Besides all the gunplay Davis also incorporates a few other creative ways of offing people such as shoving a carrot (something Mr. Smith is fond of eating) into someone’s eye. And well a lactating prostitute is just pure genius. Still it's all about guns which rule supreme as well they should with such a titular title. The four or five gun battles get more spectacular culminating with an aerial shootout after jumping out of an airplane with parachutes. Shoot ‘Em Up however could have used a rewrite by Mr. Tarantino. Sure the purpose of this movie is to show as many guns being shot off in as many ways as possible but a plausible story would have been nice too. Oh well.