Shooter (2007) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 124 min.

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra, Jonathan Walker, Justin Louis, Tate Donovan, Ned Beatty
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Jonathan Lemkin (based on the novel, "Point of Impact", by Stephen Hunter)
Review published March 28, 2007

Loosely based on Stephen Hunter's 1993 novel, "Point of Impact", Shooter follows expert military sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg, The Departed), who finds himself retiring to the Wyoming mountains after a botched mission in Ethiopia leaves his spotter (and good buddy) dead and himself abandoned as expendable. After several years of wanting to be left alone, Swagger is approached by a group of Federal agents, led by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Glover, Dreamgirls), who want him to heed the call of duty one more time with a covert mission.  They explain to Swagger that they want to stop the assassination of the President, needing him to case the areas most likely to have an incident in order to make a best guess as to where and when it is likely to happen. What Swagger didn't count on is that he's being set up as the assassin for reasons unknown, leaving him with no one to turn to who will believe him except his friend's widow, Sarah (Mara, We Are Marshall). Swagger intends to clear his name, and get revenge on those that threaten to do him and his country harm, but he has to survive first.

Depending on how much you know about Shooter, the fact that Swagger is set up may be a bit of a spoiler, but since the ads for the film give this plot point (and quite a bit more), I doubt I'm giving anything away. Certainly, anyone with even a smidge of knowledge on action thrillers rvolving around political figures will be way ahead of this basic plot twist, although it is odd that someone as suspicious of authority as Swagger doesn't catch on long before we do.

The rest of the film plays like a combination of The Fugitive and First Blood, with the antihero trying whatever means he can to exact revenge on the conglomeration of bad guys vying for control of their share of the oil market.  It's not a terribly intelligent thriller, but it flows by quickly enough to keep you entertained, even if it doesn't always make sense.  It's the kind of movie where a character will confess at gunpoint all of the necessary fill-in information behind the main plot, and then kill himself anyway.  When Swagger explains why he's exacting his revenge and he snorts, "These boys killed my dog!", you know the makers of the film want us to only take it in a semi-serious vein.

Wahlberg commands attention in another physical action performance, bringing in the intelligence and brawn required to make for an engaging action hero. A good supporting cast also helps, with Michael Pena (World Trade Center, Babel) delivering another strong role in particular as Swagger's only ally in a den of insider wolves. Once again, director Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur, Tears of the Sun) piles on oodles of extravagant action sequences, and the thriller elements in the script are interesting (including some choice contemporary commentary regarding the US foreign relations debacles recently).  Extended formula staples provide occasional lulls, especially involving the potential romance brewing between Swagger and Sarah, which is trite and superfluous, as it usually is in these sorts of films. It plays a great deal like a Lethal Weapon flick, if loose-screw Riggs and Murtaugh (Danny Glover's presence may not be a coincidence) were on opposite sides. Like most Fuqua vehicles, the end overreaches a bit by pandering to the blood-thirsty revenge crowd.

Unlike its namesake. Shooter doesn't rely on sharp precision and patience to hit its target -- more like expending rounds and rounds of ammo at it using an M60 machine gun -- it strikes with a wallop, but misses often.  Despite the star-caliber of Wahlberg, Shooter is primarily old-school schlock -- the sort of dumb-fun action flick you'd probably find The Rock, Vin Diesel or, in his Commando/Raw Deal days, Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to. However, Wahlberg's acting chops and BAMF-factor kick the interest up a notch, though it isn't essential viewing by any means.  I doubt anyone will be calling this the next "thinking man's thriller", but it will fill the void for those in the mood for a high-octane actioner.  Perhaps it's appropriate that Swagger shoots his kills in the head, as this is no-brain entertainment all the way.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo