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Shooter’ hits mark for some, fires blanks for others

Erin McGinn | Thursday, March 29, 2007

Arguably the best action films are a solid combination of tension, explosions and comedy. If it has a serviceable plot, that’s even better – but it’s not entirely necessary. “Shooter,” directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”), definitely meets these criteria.

The film opens with a prologue that introduces Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), a Marine sniper, and his partner who are on a mission in Ethiopia. The mission goes wrong, his partner is killed and Swagger is left without support and forced to find his own way out.

Flash forward 36 months and Swagger has exiled himself to an isolated cabin in the Wyoming mountains with only his dog for company. He is visited by retired Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) who comes with a patriotic proposition. According to their sources, someone is going to attempt to assassinate the President during one of his upcoming public appearances. The Colonel asks Swagger to check out the three sites where the President will appear and determine how an assassination could be pulled off.

Swagger’s reconnaissance is used against him and he is set up as the one behind the attempt. During his escape, he disarms new FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena, “Crash”), and Memphis secretly looks into the case when he realizes that there are facts that don’t match up. He evades the government officials, which sets up the cat-and-mouse chase that dominates the movie.

On the whole, “Shooter” works well as a shoot-em-up action flick that is steeped in political intrigue, in the vein of the “Bourne” movies. Like the “Bourne” franchise, “Shooter” is also taken from a book – it’s based on Stephen Hunter’s novel “Point of Impact.” Depending on the success of the movie, there are two more Swagger books that could be made into movies, giving Wahlberg his first franchise.

Screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (“Lethal Weapon 4”) does a fairly good job taking the politically-heavy novel and turning it into a high-octane action flick. The weakest part of the film is the political intrigue that remains in the film, as it is extremely undeveloped and only used when it is needed to continue the action. The last quarter of the movie takes a downward spiral in terms of plot, becoming highly unrealistic and at times confusing until the very end of the film.

Aside from the frequent explosions, the film’s real enjoyment comes from its performances. Mark Wahlberg does an outstanding job as the renegade action hero and has further solidified himself as one of the big players in Hollywood today. Also turning in a great performance is Michael Pena as the FBI agent still wet behind the ears. The scene-stealer of the film however goes to the brief appearance by Levon Helm (“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”), who delivers an unforgettable turn as the expert of all things gun-related. Ned Beatty (“Rudy”) and Elias Koteas (“Zodiac”) do well in the bad-guy roles as a corrupt senator and nearly-psychotic agent.

Turning in a surprisingly awful performance is Danny Glover. Not only is he completely unconvincing (and seemingly bored) throughout the film, but for some unbeknownst reason he speaks with an atrocious and laughable lisp. It’s similar to when someone shoves a lot of cotton in their mouths to try to imitate Brando in “The Godfather,” and instead comes off looking like a slobbering idiot. Considering the experience that he had in the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, it is highly disappointing to see him doing such a poor job.

While it is far from being a perfectly-contrived action flick, “Shooter” accomplishes what it’s there to do and is an enjoyable popcorn movie.