I'm a little more familiar with Sniper then I should be, in part because my father had an affinity for the cinematic works of its star Tom Berenger and all three Sniper films, with the latter two were straight to video releases. However, his co-star Billy Zane has returned to the franchise (after skipping the second and third films) in what appears to be a reboot of the franchise, appropriately named Sniper: Reloaded. Playing Richard Miller, he has seen and done a lot since the first film 18 years ago (let that sink in for a second), so it is natural and even logical that he would impart that wisdom onto others, playing a sniper instructor. We don't see him for awhile, so let's talk about what happens before that.
The film is co-written by Ross Helford (who wrote the script for the third film) and John Fasano (Another 48 Hrs.), and directed by Claudio Fah (Hollow Man II). The film is set in the Congo, where some American Marines are part of a larger United Nations Peacekeeping force. Sergeant Brandon Beckett (Chad Michael Collins, Lake Placid) is the son of Thomas, the character Berenger portrayed in the previous movies and part of the force. He is part of a small group helping to remove a farmer from a middle of the Congan territory that is full of rebel and military activity. The group (and farmer) is ambushed by a sniper, killing all of them save Beckett, who is wounded in the battle. Beckett seeks out Miller for his help in determining not only who was behind the trigger, but also who ordered the mission to ambush the troops in the first place.
The story is fairly well laid out, with little surprises and one or two groan-worthy moments over the course of 90 minutes (the biggest silliness being a love scene between the non-commissioned officer Beckett and Lieutenant Abramowitz, played by Annabel Wright). So rather than have a screenplay with grandiose ideas muck up what would likely be a crap movie, the filmmakers tend to focus on the pathos surrounding the Beckett and Miller characters. They seem to be aware that there is a built-in audience of fans of the franchise, whomever they may be, and since we know early on about the relationship of Beckett, dropping Miller into the mix is both inevitable and is entertaining.
On Zane for a second, what the heck happened to this guy? Back in 1993 when he appeared in this thing, he was an attractive guy, had the world by the tail and was appearing in Titanic three years later. Now, his hairline is like Gavin McLeod's, yet he still retains the looks and has fun with Miller in the film. Perhaps the larger motivation is the enjoyment of the African locations the production shot on, I don't know. As for his co-star, Collins tends to sport the same sort of look of a Channing Tatum. They are both young and very much in-shape guys, and they may turn out to be good actors. However, giving them most of the screen time in a movie can be a dangerous proposition, akin to asking either of them to perform long division. It may be entertaining to you but the novelty wears off after awhile.
Don't get me wrong, the interplay between Zane and Collins is good, but there is simply not enough of it for an outsider's sensibilities, perhaps even for more larger devotees of the franchise. The story becomes a distraction, with implausible moments put one on top of the other and disguised as a way to kick-start this franchise for some reason. But when your last two installments are straight to video, what exactly are you trying to kick start?
The Blu-ray Disc:
Sniper Reloaded is presented in an AVC encoded 1.85:1 widescreen version that is a little all over the place. In one scene, you can see bullet casings hit the ground and individual grains of sand can be discerned, in others, lack of detail (particularly on some of the close-ups) is a little frustrating. Additionally, the jungle exteriors do not possess the same level of clarity of other similarly shot productions. Flesh tones look accurate if a little faded and the overall image quality would seem to reflect the "beer budget" with which the film was shot. A likely step-up from the standard definition edition, but not by much.
The DTS-HD Master Audio surround track is good. In fact for the production values of the film I was impressed. Bullet hits come from all channels and make for an immersive experience, but even in quieter moments (when Beckett leaves both base camp and Miller in the process) the gentle murmur of the night noises makes you feel like you're walking with them. There are some small moments where dialogue is inconsistent, but those moments are brief. Considering the overall nature of the movie this is a soundtrack that is better than some major studios put out, so credit to Sony.
Sniper Reloaded serves as a transition piece for Berenger to Collins without having Berenger in it. That may make my Dad unhappy, but it is a decent enough film to come into fresh and wonder what they'll have in store for the presumed next to direct-to-video versions. It sounds great and looks not as much so, and is worth a rental for some guilt-free Saturday afternoon viewing.