March 29, 2007

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Shooter (R)
Mark Wahlberg gets his revenge for not winning an Oscar by shooting everything that comes into his sights, from a can of Dinty Moore to members of a super-secret government conspiracy, in Shooter, a movie that is absolutely accurate in its title.

It is as though The Sound of Music were called just Singer or a Michael Bay movie were called Exploder. Shooter sums up the dominant character trait of its lead character (he’s good at shooting stuff) and what he does (shoot stuff) and what the movie is about (shootin’). It’s a brilliantly direct title that rivals titles such as Phone Booth and Cell Phone or even Snakes on a Plane in how perfectly it describes every aspect of the movie.

We begin with the equally well-named Bobby Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) shooting stuff in Africa as a U.S. Army sharp shooter. He believes his is protecting, er, somebody from somebody else (they are all really far away and the only really noticeable physical feature about any of the little dudes we see through his gun sights are the bright red sprays that result when they find out the hard way just how good Bobby Lee is at his work). But then, when the protecting goes bad — more little dudes show up than were expected — the Army leaves Bobby and his partner all alone with no air support or way out. Never be the partner of the main guy in that situation. Long story short, Bobby makes it out of Africa with a widow to send flowers to and a serious dislike of the government.

Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) therefore has to travel deep into the wilderness to find Swagger’s cabin when, a while after the events of Africa, Johnson decides he wants to press Bobby back into service. Johnson tells Bobby that they’ve received threats on the president’s life and believe that he will be the target of an assassination attempt via long-distance shot of the kind that only Bobby and a handful of people on Earth can manage. Bobby reluctantly decides to help out and goes to scout locations and figure out where the assassin might strike. On the day, he stands watching the scene, giving Johnson and his men the order to take the tower where he believes the killer will be. Instead (and SPOILER ALERT, though really the trailer gives it way), a shot is fired, hitting the African reverend standing next to the president, Bobby is also shot and he realizes that the whole “help us catch the president’s potential killer” thing has been a setup.

Like any angry ex-super solider with, now, multiple reasons to dislike The Man, Bobby decides to do a little investigating into who set him up and why and if there’s any way he can stop what appears to be his near-certain execution (legal or otherwise) for this crime he didn’t commit. To this end, he enlists the help of FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), the only man who saw Bobby after the crime and who heard him claim it was a setup. Nick has his own questions about Bobby and about the investigation (such as how did news organizations get footage and other information mere minutes after the shooting) and even after he’s been kidnapped Nick is eager to keep digging.

Shooter isn’t a brilliant examination of geopolitics — it’s called Shooter after all. But it’s the kind of uncomplicated fun one looks for in an action movie, without a lot of the hurdles to having that dumb fun that many action movies create. Wahlberg is believable as slightly nutty yet very capable. And even through he isn’t as sharp here as in the recent The Departed (part of me thinks this whole movie is based on the idea that that film’s last minute was really cool), he’s still a fun guy to take the action ride with — sort of a down-to-earth Matt Damon.

Peña is also a good actor (as he displayed during his first big role, in Crash) and, even in silly scenes where he begs a higher-up to help him get secret information or scenes where he fairly easily goes from being afraid of Bobby to being all buddy-buddy with him, Peña is able to seem something like a real person.

Yes, everybody has a gun at all times in this movie and yes there is an absurdly high body count. And yes, every compliment I could give this movie would be qualified with a “for what it is.” But Shooter is one of the best of the “for what it is” category. If you need to see stuff blow up, a wise-ass guy talk back to government agents (government guy says something like “do we let thugs run our country?”; Bobby responds “sure, sometimes.”), figure out how to make his own saline solution and shoot a ridiculous number of people from improbably far away, you could do a lot worse than this. C+

Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Jonathan Lemkin from a novel by Stephen Hunter, Shooter is two hours and 6 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.