What if you cast Clive Owen in a part that reminds of both his turns in Children of Men (running around chaos and violence with a baby) and Sin City (cynical, noir-like antihero teaming up with a prostitute with whom he has a complicated history)? That would certainly rock, right?
What if you had Paul Giamatti playing a truly vicious villain and yelling stuff like “Fuck me sideways!”? Too cool for school, right?
So the movie’s an almost non-stop series of shoot ’em ups, and it’s not only riffing on John Woo’s Hong Kong flicks but cranking up the action until it becomes quite literally a madcap cartoon, with Owen doing his best Bugs Bunny, eating carrots and saying “What’s up, doc?” while being chased relentlessly by Giamatti’s Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam type… Sounds like endless fun, right?
And no live-free-or-die-PG-13 bullshit, there’s blood splashing everywhere, corpse humor à la Bad Boys II and Monica Bellucci as a “lactating hooker”! This gotta kick ass, right?
Well… yeah… I guess… I mean, I did have a good time, but… Understand, I’m not about to lament the preposterous plot, the sadistic undercurrent or the cheesy one-liners. I’m an action movie fan, I actually dig those things! I’m not bothered by the lip service on the gun control issue either. “Shoot ‘Em Up” pretty much has only one thing on its mind, and it does it well enough.
The reason why I remain slightly ambivalent is that either my expectations were too high, or the movie itself promises more than it delivers. As a straight B-movie action flick, there’s no question that it’s got it going on. But there’s this sense of it going for a self-aware spin on the genre, while at the same time paying homage to it and maybe even outdoing its inspirations. Alas, unlike filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino or Edgar Wright, whose movies brilliantly assimilate and subvert genre conventions, Michael Davis is content with turning up the volume and adding a few silly flourishes. He’s got the thunder, but he doesn’t quite have the lighting, you know?