Shoot ‘Em Up has a lot going for it, if you’re a fan of non-stop action. Mostly, since it’s non-stop action, it will appeal to those fans. There’s eye candy from Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci (although Bellucci is never allowed to be more than eye candy). The cinematographer is Peter Pau, an Oscar winner for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And writer-director Michael Davis admits to some impressive influences, in particular John Woo’s Hard Boiled.
It did poorly at the box office, but has become a cult favorite. And it’s easy to see why. The action is over-the-top absurd, the plot is largely non-existent (and thus stays out of the way), and Clive Owen is dedicated as the “hero”.
I admit I was impressed. I laughed throughout the movie. At first, my laughter was joyful, because I was seeing things I hadn’t seen before. (Suffice to say that Owen kills a man using a carrot in the very first scene.) And I never quit laughing. But by the end, I wasn’t as surprised as I was in the beginning, because the never-ending lunacy became something I expected.
Now, I would think I was the perfect audience for Shoot ‘Em Up. I have often praised action movies that ignored plot and character in favor of “pure” action. And indeed, I was entertained. But the very thing that made the movie seem intriguing, Davis’s influences, gradually turned into a check-list. Hard Boiled came first ... the opening scene features Owen in a shootout, carrying a baby. There was a lot of John Woo homage ... the two-handed spicy gun play, the gallons of blood and dead bodies (body count 151 according to the IMBD). There was snappy dialogue a la 007 or Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Samples: “Eat your vegetables” after using the carrot as a death tool. “Talk about shooting your load” after dispatching a bunch of bad guys in a shoot out while having sex with Bellucci.) Clive Owen’s action-with-a-baby reflects a similar scene in Children of Men. The problem is, every time you notice an influence/homage, you remember that those movies were better than the one you are watching. I’ve seen Hard Boiled. I love Hard Boiled. And Shoot ‘Em Up is not Hard Boiled. Michael Davis is not George “Mad Max” Miller, or Quentin Tarantino. (Of course, Davis is not the first person to forget that what makes Tarantino great isn’t the blood, it’s the dialogue.)
There are worse things than falling short of your influences. And while the action in Shoot ‘Em Up is frantic, I found it a bit more intelligible than the usual Michael Bay Chaos extravaganza. Ultimately, despite my claims of loving “pure” action, I clearly need something more. I need John Woo, I need George Miller. Or I need something that isn’t just nostalgic, but in some way new, like the Gareth Evans/Iko Uwais “Raid” films from Indonesia. Feel free to upgrade my rating if all of the above sounds exciting to you. 6/10.