I only ask one thing from a movie that promises Billy Zane, and that's a film with an adequate amount of Billy Zane, Billy Zaneing it up. After two straight-to-video sequels to the moderate 1993 action cult classic "Sniper," Tom Berenger must have decided it was time to call it quits. The question lingering in the minds of fans of the franchise was, "who will fill his shoes?" If you guessed Treat Williams, you'd be wrong; instead for the third sequel, the creative minds would go old school and acquire the talents of Billy Zane for two reasons: one, Billy Zane doesn't seem to turn many roles down and two, Billy Zane was Richard Miller, the protégé of Berenger's character in the original film. Not content to leave it at that, writer John Fasano throws a curveball at viewers, offering up Chad Michael Collins as Marine Brandon Beckett, son of famed sniper Thomas (Berenger). Will Miller train his former master's son in the art of the kill, or will "Sniper: Reloaded" pull a crafty bait-and-switch on the audience, making the viewer wait for the coveted sniper action?
"Sniper: Reloaded" is obviously a very low-budget film and to director Claudio Fah's credit, the film rarely looks cheap or second rate. Shot on location in South Africa, Fah's camera captures the natural beauty of Africa perfectly, providing a backdrop of mildly interesting intrigue to set Beckett on the path to his birthright. I'll be upfront, unlike the film itself and warn viewers that the Miller character doesn't make an appearance in the film until the halfway point and after that doesn't have a lot to do. Instead Chad Michael Collins (which I believe is Newspeak for Sam Tatum or Channing Worthington, I can't remember for sure) must carry the weight as a Marine on patrol with a UN peacekeeping force in the Congo, who is quickly ambushed by an unseen sniper and must fight to make it back to base. Collins is wholly sufficient as Miller, although the connection to Berenger's character is in name only, as this Beckett is young, brash, and foolish. Eventually after a series of mildly exciting action pieces, marred by some stupid camera gimmicks, Beckett makes it back to base where high command is content to sweep it under the rug. One unexpected and wholly inappropriate sex scene later and finally Richard Miller emerges from the shadows, offering Beckett a chance to uncover who possibly betrayed his squad and follow in his father's footsteps.
"Sniper: Reloaded" finally picks up, unsurprisingly once Billy Zane shows up to spread his mysterious charisma, as well as a hilariously vintage mustache. The few scenes we are offered with Miller imparting his wisdom to the young Beckett are the highlights only to the film's genuinely tense, small-scale finale. The film eventually delivers the titular sniper action, resulting in many nameless bad guys sent to the afterlife at the hands of Miller and Beckett. A final hat tip is owed to writer John Fasano, for making the final resolution to the story actually satisfying and one that really wasn't foreseeable. I don't think it's a big spoiler to say, "Sniper: Reloaded" is an odd bridging entry between the three Berenger films and what Sony likely hopes to be a new straight-to-DVD franchise. To make a long story short, "Sniper: Reloaded" is a nice disposable diversion, but could have used a lot more Billy Zane or at least downplayed his role in marketing.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a very mixed bag. For the most part, detail is striking contrast is steady, and colors are rich and natural; however, without rhyme or reason, a handful of scenes, some just brief moments, where detail takes a dip and a heightened level of video noise pops up. Further adding to the negatives is a consistent, minor amount of edge enhancement.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is solid, providing more than adequate atmosphere when Beckett's troops are under fire. Dialogue is appropriately mixed alongside effects, and there's enough low-end kick to the action sequences to make one forget the low-budget origins of the film. Additional 5.1 tracks are available in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and That. English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese Korean, and Thai subtitles are included as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
"Sniper: Reloaded" isn't in the same league as the original "Sniper," but that doesn't make it a horrible film. The filmmakers earn respect trying to move the series forward in an original direction, making Beckett's son a different character than his predecessor. On the flipside, the film could have used much tighter pacing in the first 50-minutes, dropped a few gimmicky camera gags, and once again, given Billy Zane more to do. As an honest, un-ironic fan of the man's work, "Sniper: Reloaded" was a letdown, but still had enough to offer to make my time spent with it not feel like a waste. Rent It.