Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shooter / ** (R)

Bob Lee Swagger: Mark Wahlberg
Nick Memphis: Michael Pena
Col. Isaac Johnson: Danny Glover
Sarah Fenn: Kate Mara
Jack Payne: Elias Koteas
Sen. Charles F. Meachum: Ned Beatty

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Jonathan Lemkin, based on the book by Stephen Hunter. Running time: 124 min. Rated R (for strong graphic violence and some language).

Are you feeling a bit screwed by your government? Do you fantasize about just killing all the bad guys and giving ‘em what they really deserve? Do Mark Wahlberg’s biceps and large scale explosions excite you? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then the new actioner “Shooter” may be just the movie for you.

In telling the story of a sharp shooter framed by men in black for an assassination attempt on the President, “Shooter” breaks no new ground. But as a protest against a secretive system of power and greed where the grunt is expendable and top government officials pull all the strings, “Shooter” has something quite disturbing to say. Sure, Hollywood has been willing to tell us many times before that the government was bad, but this film takes the next step by stating that things might get a little better if a couple of congressmen took bullets to the head.

Politics and morality aside, “Shooter” is first and foremost a completely formulaic action thriller. Mark Wahlberg (“The Departed”) is Bob Lee Swagger, a former Special Forces sniper living as a recluse in the wilderness after his spotter dies on a mission that left the pair abandoned in hostile territory. Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, “Lethal Weapon” series) tracks Swagger down to enlist his help in thwarting a sniper threat against the President of the United States.

As is customary in these stories, Swagger is reluctant to help an institution that left him for dead. As it turns out, his reluctance is warranted after he is framed for the assassination attempt and forced to flee through the streets of Philadelphia. Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) gets a chance to flex his own seasoned action muscles with a spectacular chase sequence that ends with Swagger plummeting his stolen car into the Delaware River.

Throughout most of the action, this film is pretty much interchangeable with any number of falsely accused fugitive plotlines, from “The Fugitive” to “Minority Report”, although the violence reaches new levels here. Wahlberg does a good job anchoring the film in what is his first full-fledged action role; Hollywood may have found a suitable replacement for Bruce Willis.

Swagger is not without his allies. His dead spotter’s widow, Sarah (Kate Mara, “Brokeback Mountain”), provides a safe haven where Swagger can lick his wounds, not to mention a sexy female to satisfy any requisite needs for the film’s target audience. And Michael Pena (“World Trade Center”) plays a rookie FBI agent, the only law enforcement officer who smells a rat in the warehouse.

Fuqua runs the tension at a good clip for most of the film. The pace only falters at the end, when he falls for the “The Lord of the Rings” curse by wearing the audience’s patience thin with three or four natural stopping points before finally wrapping things up. These multiple endings also push the level of plausibility far beyond what even this overplayed genre allows as acceptable suspension of disbelief. A scene which takes place in the Department of Defense involving a gun and a criminal in custody is the biggest offender.

There is more to observe about “Shooter”, however, than merely its merits as a thriller. I think this film is a sign of Hollywood’s and the nation’s attitude toward the world in which we are living. With its harsh conspiratorial depiction of our government’s practices and obvious references to current world policies involving issues like the importance of oil over human life, Hollywood appears to be just as fed up with the status quo as the rest of the populace and is therefore done trying to keep relations amicable with the ruling establishment. The solutions presented here are extreme and violent. Perhaps this is an example of taking too much of a cue from your own enemy’s tactics, but I’m guessing that this is an aggressive trend we’ll be seeing much more of coming out of Hollywood over the next few years.

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