Michael Davis' 2007 film Shoot 'Em Up is in many respects quite wonderful. It takes something that could on the page seem somewhat ordinary and tedious and tries so hard to make it art. It attempts to do what Sam Raimi did with the horror film in Evil Dead 2 to the gun-based action film. And it so nearly succeeds that it makes you want to applaud the attempt. The problem is the fact that, while there are moments of inspired genius - the opening gun battle, the gun battle during sex, the gun battle in the ammunitions factory - when it fails in its attempts to make art out of pulp the effects can be dismal, particularly in the parachute gun battle. Because we in no way care about any of the characters or the plot, when the film fails to be viscerally entertaining, it becomes irritating and stupid. All the actors are good in their parts, and perfectly cast (particularly Paul Giamatti as the disgusting bad guy,) but because the film does not want us to get invested in them as people (that would spoil the fun of the movie) there is nothing to do or think about when the movie is failing to entertain, so we are just left with the sensation of our minds being numbed.
I really like so much of this movie - the camera work, the inventiveness, the jokes - that it is somewhat disappointing that the film occassionally sucks. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to suggest that I think that there should have been 'more character development,' or that the characters should have been 'less cartoony'. If either of those things had happened, the film would have lost the specialness that it has. The whole film was about the beauty and fun of screen violence, and to bog that down in the molasses that lesser movies need to keep moving forward would have been a mistake. I would just have liked it if all of the gun battles were as inventive and fun and funny as the first one, or the one in the munitions factory.
Actually, I would have liked the film more if we knew less about Clive Owen's character's past. At the start, he is just an angry, crazy man, who accidentally gets mixed up in something that has nothing to do with him, and is inexplicably amazing with a firearm. That was enough. We didn't need any more. We didn't need to know that pointless bullshit about his wife and child having been murdered and he sold the gun to the murderer bla bla bla. All that just detracts from the awesomeness of the character. Knowing why he is like he is is both pointless and diminishing to him. All we needed to know about him was that he was a total badass. The rest is just an irritance.