March 23, 2007

Movie Review: Shooter

Posted in Movies at 9:25 pm by Calico Jack

Director Antoine Fuqua has several good movies under his belt, including Training Day and Tears of the Sun. A prestigious track record makes it even more unfortunate that Fuqua has stumbled with Shooter, a strictly by-the-numbers action film that struggles to claw its way out of mediocrity. Even with a solid supporting cast and a few deft directorial touches, Paqua is unable to save this film from being anything more than an often entertaining, instantly forgettable movie with more plot holes than a piece of John Woo Swiss cheese.

Shooter begins with an exciting prelude set in Ethiopia, as U.S. military sniper Bobby Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) and his spotter, lying in ambush at the top of a mountain, take out a convoy of enemy forces driving through the valley below. These opening scenes are full of sniper chatter as the two discuss ranges, wind speed, target velocity, and quite a few other technical details that, for once, sound completely authentic and give Shooter early credibility. Unfortunately for Swagger, this once-simple mission goes horribly awry, leading him to resign his commission afterwards and retire to a hermit’s life deep in the Generic Western Mountain Range. Of course, Swagger still keeps up his sniper skills; one never knows when they might come in handy.

Three years later, Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) and his retinue of sunglass-wearing federal agents show up at Swagger’s retreat, warning him of an imminent assassination attempt on the President’s life. All they know from an internal communiqué is that it will happen in the next three weeks, and will involve a sniper shot at a distance of over a mile. Johnson wants Swagger, one of the military’s best snipers, to recon the possible target cities and figure out where the assassin could possibly be able to make his shot.

Swagger reluctantly agrees, and after determining the only possible location where the sniper could be, is asked to act as the lead spotter for the counter-assassination team (because, after all, having Swagger return home to his beer-drinking, milk-jug-shooting cabin life would not make much of a movie). Suffice to say that once again, Swagger finds himself over his head as he is framed for the subsequent attempt on the President’s life, and literally everyone around him decides to take a few potshots at his fleeing figure. I’m not giving anything away here, as it’s all in the trailer.

Severely wounded yet eager to clear his name and extract some Western-style payback along the way, Swagger enlists the help of his old spotter’s wife Sarah (Kate Mara), who has quite an important role in the first two-thirds of the film but ends up being little more than a plot device. As a nationwide manhunt begins for the not-so-ex-sniper, recently-graduated FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) smells something fishy about the entire situation, and starts out on a loner’s quest to discover the truth.

The truth, unfortunately, is where Shooter loses much of its momentum. Government conspiracies are a tried-and-true staple of action films, but this one is preposterous enough to be almost laughable. How many other films feature a blowhard U.S. senator (Ned Beatty) spouting lines like “Americans don’t want to hear the truth behind the war, that it’s all about oil!” This statement is dismissible as an isolated line, but the senator’s predication eventually forms the underpinnings of Shooter‘s plot, and only weakens the overall story. Will Smith’s Enemy of the State worked in 1997, because it adroitly played on Americans’ concerns about government surveillance. But does anyone honestly believe, no matter what one’s views are on the Iraq War, that the United States started a conflict over oil? Glaring plot holes also detract from the overall enjoyment of the film, and a rather unrealistic ending, with a muddled ex post facto explanation, make one wonder how the final act made it past test audiences.

However, under Fuqua’s direction, Shooter does have some redeeming elements that might not have been there had it been filmed by someone less skilled. The pace moves along quite briskly for a two-hour film, and Fuqua knows how to get the most out of his actors. Wahlberg’s character is not a mindless action hero; he uses all of his sniper skills to attack, outmaneuver, and outthink his opponents. Ignoring the plot holes and the absurd rationale for the whole movie, Shooter is a fairly competent but entirely predictable action film featuring not one, but two hot ladies (always a bonus) and quite a few well-directed, intense action scenes. If only The Bourne Identity hadn’t done it so much better.

C+.

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