Is it 1990 again? "Shooter" would be right at home with an elder action superstar such as Steven Seagal, who could play brilliantly into the rampant silliness that surrounds him with a straight face. In 2007, the actor puffing up his chest is Mark Wahlberg, making this deliriously ludicrous motion picture a smidge harder to swallow when it launches right into outer space.
Still reeling from a mission gone horribly wrong, former Marine Corps sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) has exiled himself to the Wyoming mountains to soothe his soul. When a covert government team (including Danny Glover) looks to Swagger to help thwart a presidential assassination, the marksman is coaxed back into action. However, Swagger's work is short lived when he's set up as the assassin, forcing him to retreat into the arms of his slain partner's girlfriend (Kate Mara, "We Are Marshall") for help.
Since "Shooter" is reportedly an adaptation of the Stephen Hunter novel "Point of Impact," I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. "Shooter" is a spastic endeavor with an almost pathological need to befuddle the audience. At the same time, this is mid-budget action entertainment not seen up on the big screen much these days: the good guy lives and breathes the American flag, the bad guys hiss and flick their forked tongues, and the female lead ends up in her underwear on several occasions.
The was once a time not too long ago when this level of brawny filmmaking was the norm, and I appreciate director Antoine Fuqua's efforts to lend his film a retro tinge of violent sleaze. To best appreciate what "Shooter" has to offer the viewer, you have to put on your wayback glasses and just enjoy the ride. The film is dumb, loud, and, when it comes time to depict governmental betrayals, relentlessly ridiculous. But it's also a hoot if you can squint down the scope of the feature and appreciate its mouthbreathing purpose.
Doing his best Lee Marvin impression, Wahlberg is the star of the show here for a reason: you believe him. Sure, he swallows half of his techy firearm dialogue, but put this actor in a role that needs blue-collar, Irish-kiss apathy, and gosh darnit, Wahlberg delivers. His Swagger is a man defined by his duty; a solider disillusioned not by his county, but by the tooth-sucking morons who run it. Well trained for survival, Swagger spends the movie running around picking people off with single bullet hits and generally swatting away anyone who dares hassle him.
If there ever was an actor working today better suited for such tight-lipped response, it's Wahlberg, and channeling the gods of Bronson, Stallone, and Seagal, he puts his best fist forward and leans into the utter insanity of it all. Shooting down helicopters, downing whippets to numb himself for surgery, sharing food orally with his beloved dog, and generally prepared for battle on any terrain, Wahlberg is enjoying his time as the Nugent-like Swagger, and it's hard to argue with his commitment.
Fuqua, on the other hand, could've used a little more studio supervision. "Shooter" is all over the map in terms of story, biting off way more than it can chew with a conspiracy saga, action fireworks, a subplot with a crucial F.B.I. witness (Michael Pena) who helps Swagger, and an aborted romance between Swagger and the damsel in distress. And I mean aborted; the moment where they lean in to engage in some heavy petting is sliced off right before it begins, never to be spoken of again. I guess test audiences agreed it didn't belong in this already far too obese motion picture.
Fuqua has been down the mindless action film route before with 1998's convincing "The Replacement Killers," but that glossy Roman candle was blessedly simple. "Shooter" asks the audience to sit through a litany of conspiracy trails and about 20 different endings, all of which contain Danny Glover and Ned Beatty sickeningly swallowing the frame with their thinly-disguised pass at Red State mockery ("it's about the oil!"). Perhaps this is why something always seems to be exploding in the film at the very moment it becomes intolerable.
So why give "Shooter" a mild pass? Because even if the film stumbles, it has just enough goofball lust to keep it entertaining, especially when Swagger is in full government spank mode. Fuqua has made a crisp action buffet here, and no completely demoralizing scene of stupidity is going to keep it down for long. See it for the cheap thrills, not the logic.
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