Half a dozen fight scenes into the action-movie parody/exemplar Shoot 'Em Up, a minion asks Paul Giamatti's smirking thug character whether he wants to risk personally pursuing ludicrously lethal quarry Clive Owen. Giamatti shrugs off the danger with a derisive comment about people leading from the rear, then adds, avidly, "Besides, violence is one of the most fun things to watch." He's clearly talking directly to the viewers, taking them into his sleazy confidence: The line (which has been widely attributed to Quentin Tarantino) amounts to a pat on the head and a forgiving license to enjoy the film's gleeful, enjoyably mindless excesses, which don't reach much further thematically than "Whee! Violence!"
Shoot 'Em Up has a plot, but it's an illogical mess of coincidence and conspiracy, and it takes a distinct back seat to hilariously cartoony sequences like the opener, in which Owen is quietly munching a carrot at a bus stop when a hysterical pregnant woman runs by, pursued by a gun-wielding, abuse-screaming man. Owen comes to her aid with a world-weary, "Here we go again" attitude that's only the first of many ways in which Shoot 'Em Up recalls his role in Children Of Men. Soon, he's delivering her child while handily dispatching waves of attacking thugs, even taking one out with his carrot. Then he's on the lam with the baby, killing so many of Giamatti's pursuing mercenaries in such increasingly ridiculous ways that shock-exhaustion rapidly sets in. And while the film keeps trying to get even more outrageous—for instance, by having Owen pass baby-feeding duties to jaded lactation-fetish hooker Monica Bellucci—it rarely tops the vigor and hilarity of that first scene.
It certainly tries, though. Giamatti plays his villain role with a purring fervency that implies he wishes he had a properly twirlable mustache. Owen plays his usual generic modern desperado; in his case, the characterization mostly comes from the choreography, which has him sexually satisfying Bellucci while killing eight would-be assassins, or deliberately engineering a head-on collision with a van to propel himself through both windshields and into the other vehicle, where he proceeds to shoot everyone. The "Can't stop! Will die!" franticness closely recalls Crank, but the glossy special effects and polished aesthetic bring the action closer to Kung Fu Hustle or Tarantino's Kill Bill. Certainly Shoot 'Em Up has those films' flailing humor and desire to pander simultaneously to action-film fans and to people who mock action-film excess. It's all meant as gory good fun, but once the novelty wears off half an hour in, the rest of the film is only meant for people who absolutely agree with Giamatti's character about that violence thing.