It’s sure getting messy out there in Hollywood. As was the case with Zach Snyder’s laughably serious 300, Michael Davis’ comedic action extravaganza Shoot ‘Em Up paints the walls red, pouring over countless pints of digital blood splatter in the process. But Davis, unlike Snyder, sees the ridiculous nature of such an aesthetic and the comedic undertones ripe for commentary. This approach comes across in the first scene, where Cilve Owen’s unnamed hero watches a pregnant woman with a gun and then a threatening thug both run past his perch at a bus stop. Owen’s wink-wink reluctancy to get involved spells out the rules of this particular world; just another moment of random violence which needs fixing. In this sense Shoot ‘Em Up is laughable, but the heinous nature of the actions that follow speaks to the contrast in tone Davis achieves.
While the relentless action, digital effects, and sexual innuendo revel in the artistic potential of shallow entertainment, the film also reveals an underlining critique of the American gun control quagmire, one steeped in political corruption and greed. Whereas 300 bloodily marked it’s sword in the sand with overzealous chest pounding and hollow screams, Shoot ‘Em Up uses severed legs, gouged eyes, and the like to call attention to the ridiculous nature of such actions, showing digital blood splatter as an extreme form of cultural artificiality. Davis might be attempting to capture the balletic movement of early Hong Kong John Woo with some complex action set pieces, but his film mires itself in how fake everything appears being played out. As Owen and arch nemesis Paul Giamatti battle it out for the umpteenth time, Davis seems to be showing movie violence broken down to the safest common denominator, where the bad guys always die first, and the hero selflessly reigns supreme no matter the odds. Our own passivity toward the material is more disturbing than any of the creative killings in the film. For better or worse, Shoot ‘Em Up produces a form of guilty pleasure thrill out of the dirtiest of deeds, possibly saying more about the current state of Hollywood moviemaking than some would like to admit.