Dir: Antoine Fuqua. US. 2007. 126 mins.
Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg appears to be going more for box office gold than critical honours with Shooter, a handsome but seriously overblown action thriller from Training Day and King Arthur director Antoine Fuqua. Mashing up elements from the Rambo movies, TV action series 24 and conspiracy classics like The Parallax View, this Paramount production gets sillier with each passing scene and ends up squandering much of its commercial potential.
Paramount opens the picture in North America this weekend, amid a crowd of wide releases aimed at a variety of audience sectors. Wahlberg's success with The Departed could stimulate a decent debut, but after that the studio will have to work hard to reach beyond a core audience of male action, conspiracy and gun buffs.
Paramount Pictures International will roll the film out in many overseas markets during April. Wahlberg's heightened profile might count for even more internationally - The Departed is by far the actor's best international performer since 2001's Planet Of The Apes - though Shooter's gung-ho tone could be something of a liability.
The script, by Lethal Weapon 4 writer Jonathan Lemkin, is based on the popular (and lengthy) Stephen Hunter novel Point Of Impact and it packs a lot of plot into the film's two-hour-plus running time.
Wahlberg's Bob Lee Swagger is a disgruntled former Marine sniper who now prefers the simple mountain life to picking off bad guys in dangerous foreign lands. He reluctantly comes out of retirement to help - he thinks - a retired colonel (Glover) stop an assassination attempt on the US President.
The colonel turns out to be something of a bad guy himself and, set up by a secret government cabal, Swagger goes on the run, aided by the sexy young widow of his former sniping partner (Mara, from Brokeback Mountain and 24) and a novice FBI agent (Pena, from World Trade Center).
As the fugitives speed around the country trying to uncover the details of the conspiracy, the film lurches from scene to scene getting steadily more over-the-top and less convincing. There's an underlying tone of sombre flag waving (with a couple of clumsy references to recent and current world events), a few sniper-procedural interludes rife with gun jargon, some survivalist action episodes, and plenty of blood-spurting headshots.
Perhaps attempting to divert attention away from the cliched script and confusing plot, Fuqua makes extensive use of impressive locations - from the sights of Washington DC to sweeping landscapes and snowy mountain vistas - and flashy set pieces. Helicopters are the director's favourite shooting aids and props, with big meaty rifles coming in a close second. Many of the action sequences, though, are oddly unexciting, and they don't begin to make up for the lack of real dramatic tension.
Looking every bit the pumped-up action hero, Wahlberg doesn't come off too badly in the undemanding role of the moody, stoical Swagger. The other performers aren't so lucky. Pena is wasted as Swagger's loyal sidekick and Mara is stuck with a role that's little more than eyelash fluttering. Glover adopts a bemusing lisp to play the transparently bad baddie and Ned Beatty is roped in as the requisite smarmy politician pulling the strings from Washington.
Production companies/ backers
Di Bonaventura Pictures
Paramount Pictures International
Lorenzo Di Bonaventura
Director of photography
Peter Menzies Jr