And yeah, "Shoot 'Em Up" certainly fits that bill. It's crazy. It's nuts. It's insane. It's so over the top that it would be most accurate to classify it as a comedy rather than an action movie. Of course, now that I think about it some action movies are two steps from comedy anyways. Look at "Commando," "Die Hard with A Vengeance" or "Machete" and tell me you're not supposed to laugh. I suppose that's kind of the point, and to be sure it's a lot of fun to watch a crazy action movie, which is certainly what "Shoot 'Em Up" is trying to be.
But you know what? After seeing it, when all is said and done, I'd rather watch "Crank" or "Escape From LA" or some other crazy action flick over "Shoot 'Em Up." I mean, yeah it was nuts, and yeah it had an absurd amount of action and a raging sense of humor about it, but I think it fell flat for two different reasons, and the second one I surprise even myself by saying.
First, I do not care much for Clive Owen. I find him uncharismatic and dull. He's what would happen if Daniel Craig was homeless for a couple months and somehow had the small amount of personality he had sucked out with a straw. He's just not charismatic at all, and he delivers his lines with all the gusto of a sack of onions. And this guy is supposed to be an action hero? Where's the panache? Where's the style? Where's the humor? Where's the badassery?
I just can't get behind a hero who looks like Ben Stiller.
The thing is that he seems dreadfully miscast. He just doesn't look like a tough guy. He doesn't look like someone who could jump through a plate glass window and put bullets between the eyes of 5 guys before he hit the ground. I'm sorry, I'm just not buying it. He looks like the catcher for a minor league baseball team, not a trained killer.
That and he can't pull off a one-liner to save his life.
There's also these really weird character traits they give Clive Owen, one where he gets really angry about random stuff and is always starting sentences with "You know what I hate?" Usually that means he's about to shoot somebody. Because you know, he's the good guy. There's also this running gag with him eating carrots. I don't get it. They do give him a one liner after he kills a guy with one, jamming it through the back of his throat and then saying "Eat your vegetables," but it comes off about as good as you'd expect it to. Schwarzenegger this guy ain't.
The other thing that was kind of a weird thing to have a problem with was the fact that the story is at best nonexistent. Within the first minute and a half, Clive Owen is running through a warehouse shooting a bunch of guys he doesn't know. They don't know him, either. He was just there in the middle of something, so they send in like 50 guys out of nowhere to kill him. And while I would usually applaud an action movie for getting started really quick it's really hard to care about what's going on when you have absolutely no frame of reference.
In fact, despite the movie barely clocking in at 85 minutes, we are not given context to anything plot-related until nearly an hour into the film. Imagine if in "Die Hard" you didn't know there was a robbery going down until the beginning of the third act. It would have just been a guy without shoes running around an office building shooting people. That would have sucked.
There have been movies that have gotten off to a really fast start and been good, but they were either sequels, where you know these people already, like "The Expendables 2," or they gave you context really quick, like "Crank." In fact, let's take "Crank" as an example. That movie too was ridiculous action packed comedic madness, but in the first minute of the film, you know Jason Statham's character's name, what he does, who he pissed off, and what his predicament was. From that point on, it's action that doesn't stop, just like "Shoot 'Em Up," but we actually care because of trivial things like knowing what the hell is going on.
Shockingly, this has more context.
"Shoot 'Em Up" begins with Clive Owen sitting on a bench eating a carrot. A man runs past him trying to kill a pregnant lady, so he chases after them, kills the dude, and then starts shooting everyone else who starts flooding into the building to kill him. That's it. That's your setup. And you don't know anything about anything until the movie is almost over.
I can't believe I'm saying this, because even though it's really over the top and super charged, it really makes the action boring. I was actually bored by "Shoot 'Em Up," simply because I had no context, so I didn't care.
The one good thing about "Shoot 'Em Up" was Paul Giamatti as the hitman trying to kill Clive Owen. He's this really dumpy, unassuming guy with a bad comb-over, but he's probably the thing most people will remember before anything else about the movie. It was particularly funny watching him get more and more frustrated with not being able to take Clive Owen out, including a rather good line where he yells in exasperation, "My god. Do we suck or is this guy just that good?"
Ugh. I need an adult after just looking at that expression.
Also, Stephen McHattie shows up in a upper-echelon baddy role, but I'm not even sure where he fit into the whole picture since by that point, I really didn't care. Oh well. It was still nice to see him.
You know, I enjoy brain-dead action. I really do. But there's got to be some kind of reason for the explosions and bullets and blood splatter. Otherwise how am I supposed to care? At some level, I have to be somewhat invested so that I'll at least like the character. Or at least know what they're doing. Because without context or plot or reason, all you have is explosions. And that's why we have Michael Bay. And screw that.
THE BOTTOM LINE - I can see someone really enjoying "Shoot 'Em Up," but it wasn't for me. I just don't like Clive Owen, and I found it more like an experiment in showing purely action with no plot than an enjoyable movie watching experience. Maybe fans of gratuitous over the top silliness will like it, but really, there's plenty of movies that do it FAR better, like "Crank." If you're curious watch it, but if you skip this, you're not missing much.