I'd love to be able to recommend Shoot First and Pray You Live. I love the ballsy Spaghetti Western-styled title.
Now, the fact that I'd just read 10,000 Ways to Die by Alex Cox, and it may not have done the movies any favors. In it, he complains about the over-complex much ado about nothing nature of the Sartana movies. I can't really agree completely agree with him on Sartana, as I find those movies terribly charming in their complexity. Although I think they manage to pace themselves out in a way to keep them moving and enjoyable throughout, even when I've long since lost track of what the hell I ever thought the movie may have been about.
Shoot First... starts right off introducing itself as convoluted. It gives Kill Bill-style introductory name titles and close-ups to character after character, giving next to know other information about them or their relative importance. It quickly distances the audience from the movie, and I can't say I ever really gained back much of it.
It's too bad I didn't like it better. It's actually got strong acting and production values, and I don't remember the last time I've seen them so strong in a low-budget American action western.
I suspect if the makers went back and looked at how their iconic westerns go about introducing their characters and stories, they could make something terrific. Hell, I'm not sure if it wasn't already released, a person could re-edit what they shot in a way that would draw the viewer in right away, so they're already hooked by the time they introduced the convoluted numbers of characters.
That's also what Kill Bill does. Quentin Tarantino's use of skewed timelines are never at all random, and that's one of the things he does with them is find the best places to introduce characters to maximize audience interest in them. Shoot First... tries to mimic the skewed timeline, but sadly doesn't come close to putting it in the right order.
I think I'd overall recommend Ninja Assassin, but certainly not strongly.
I like the idea of "R" rated ultraviolent action movies, but I have to say the gallons and gallons of CGI blood didn't quite work for me. The fact of there being so much made it simply more obvious that no one and nothing reacted to it at all.
And I'm still unsure how I feel about seeing Patrick from Coupling as the Interpol boss.
Back in the day, being afraid of trying to market a movie on the star power of an Asian actor, there were a lot of movies like American Ninja that would have a convoluted reason to make some white guy a ninja. I have a nostalgic fondness for those movies, but can't say I don't prefer the idea of moving past that.
Here we have the titular "ninja assassin" played by Korean pop star Rain, and he's not bad. But then he's not exactly the lead either. Instead we inexplicably get the Interpol agent played by Naomie Harris shoehorned in as the main character. It feels just a little like the trash movie version of making Mississippi Burning about benevolent white guys.
That said, the action scenes are well-paced and nicely shot, relying much less on edited together action pastiche than most modern action fare, which was refreshing. And, of course, seeing Sho Kosugi in action again was excellent.
I'd heard complaints at the time it was running theatrically about the darkness. I don't know if there was a problem with the projection at some theaters or if that's simply been corrected for home video, but I had no issues with that at all. As I said, the action was all very clear and well-choreographed.
It's a solid, entertaining action movie. I'd have liked it to be the second coming of American martial arts cinema, but I didn't expect it to be and so I wasn't disappointed.