The massive number of shootouts and graphic deaths are predicated on the simple plot of the movie (if it can be said to have one).
There is something almost philosophical in the title of Shoot 'Em Up, a sense of meta-film irony. The movie is in fact what would be described as a shoot 'em up movie and nothing else. The honesty and simplicity of the title protects writer-director Michael Davis from most of the criticism he and the movie will receive, and I imagine that was the point all along.
The massive number of shootouts and graphic deaths are predicated on the simple plot of the movie (if it can be said to have one). Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is just a guy minding his own business when he helps a pregnant woman escape from a bunch of bad guys in black who are trying to kill her for some unknown reason. As the first gunfight ensues, Smith helps the woman deliver the baby and then escape from the head bad guy, Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti). The woman is killed and Smith has to take the baby and try to figure out why Hertz it trying to kill it.
Since that can't be the whole plot for a 90-minute movie, Davis throws in some background on Smith as a man who lost his wife and child in a fast food restaurant shooting. Also, there is some mention of a U.S. Senator, baby harvesting, a former FBI profiler, gun control laws and lactating prostitutes.
As mentioned, most criticism of the movie is going to be null and void because of the nature of the movie. However, there is still one fatal flaw in what Davis was trying to achieve. Gratuitous violence is ostensibly old news for most moviegoing audiences these days, with the popularity of the movies of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Shoot 'Em Up can most easily be compared to Sin City, which Rodriguez directed and in which he reached a new echelon of violence. Where Sin City succeeded, however, was in creating a unique world for the characters that we do not inhabit, thereby making the outlandish killing and torture believable and fitting. The characters (and I'm playing it fast and loose with that word) in Shoot 'Em Up, as far as can be seen, inhabit the same world we do, making the fight scenes and stunts seem like just that: choreographed, rehearsed and executed with the aid of a green screen and plenty of CGI enhancements.
Owen is as fun to watch as ever. He has described the role as not so much the anti-Bond, but just as a guy who doesn't want to get involved but pretty much has to. Owen's facial expressions and deadpan delivery of the one-liners that abound in the movie make the performance exactly what it needs to be. Giamatti is having a ball as Mr. Hertz, the first real bad-guy character he's been able to play. He's a genius and knows it, but still has family obligations that tend to come up at the most inopportune time.
Davis clearly knows how to capture action and keep every scene different from the last. The shootouts are creative and entertaining, but aren't nearly as enjoyable as watching action sequences rooted in the realm of possibility. Nevertheless, there is some pretty cool stuff going on and Davis sprinkles the bullet-riddled scenes with corny dialogue that is just charming enough to keep the audience from walking out. | Matthew F. Newlin