Mark Wahlberg finally got some acting recognition with his surprise Academy Award nomination for 2006's "The Departed
," but what is an Oscar vet to do for his next career move? If you're Halle Berry, you become a Bond gal
." If you're Marisa Tomei, you receive a quick shot at leading lady status before getting sidelined with generic love interest parts in junk like 2007's "Wild Hogs
." And if you're Wahlberg, you vie to be the next big, dumb action star in a low-rent '80s-style thriller called "Shooter." What is most disappointing is that he is merely okay, turning in the sort of monotone, emotion-challenged turn one might expect from John Cena or even Steven Seagal.
Three years after a botched mission led to the death of his comrade, former Marine Corps sniper and brilliant marksman Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is living a quiet life of exile in the Wyoming mountains. When Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) comes knocking, he is called back into action to try and stop an imminent assassination threat on the President of the United States. Swagger reluctantly agrees to help out, but it is all a setup; when Ethiopian Archbishop Mutumbo is shot at a Philadelphia rally where the President is speaking, he finds himself accused of the crime and on the run from crooked government officials and political higher-ups, including U.S. Senator Charles F. Meachum (Ned Beatty). Seeking the help of rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) and Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara), the girlfriend of his fallen partner, Swagger must elude capture as he finds a way to clear his name. When the latter begins to look like an impossibility, he turns to good, old-fashioned revenge.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (2003's "Tears of the Sun
") and written for the screen by Jonathan Lemkin (2000's "Red Planet
"), "Shooter" is based on a novel called "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter, but more closely resembles an adaptation of a chintzy paint-by-numbers book. Spineless about everything but its angry anti-government stance, the film does not seek to explore real-world issues in any meaningful way. Shed of a reason for being and with few characters to identify with, the movie instead focuses on derivative car chases, bloody shootouts, and ample explosions to do the talking. That's a shame, since the plot is at once distastefully shallow and unnecessarily vague on the motivations of its grotesque villains. Having sat through all two hours of the running time, there is no credible reason given for why Swagger is set up in the first place, except that the bad guys are evil and have used him as a patsy.
Mark Wahlberg (2006's "Invincible
") has the physique to be an action star, but his heart doesn't seem to be in it. His Bob Lee Swagger is supposed to be the protagonist and hero of the piece, but he isn't particularly likable and by the end is unleashing just desserts on his enemies with the relish of a psychopath. It's a part unworthy of what Wahlberg is capable of, and a performance that is forgettable at best.
As potential love interest Sarah, Kate Mara (2006's "We Are Marshall
") is spunky and strong-willed, but she is a little young to be playing a school teacher when she is still receiving teen roles herself. As FBI Agent Nick Memphis, Michael Pena (2005's "Crash
") is underutilized; the viewer learns nothing about him through the course of the film. Making a better impression are the veteran character actors, with Ned Beatty (1999's "Life
") at his slimy best as the horrible Senator Charles F. Meachum; Danny Glover (2006's "Dreamgirls
"), overcoming a distractingly throaty voice as Colonel Isaac Johnson; and a scene-stealing Levon Helm (most memorable to me for 1985's underseen masterpiece "Smooth Talk
") as ballistics expert Mr. Rate.
A sorely mistimed Anna Nicole Smith joke and a visually indelible shot of a man's brain matter sprawled across a snow-covered vista notwithstanding, "Shooter" fails to capture the viewer's attention or passion. "Road House" without the entertainment value or even a bar in sight, "Shooter" starts aimlessly and ends as a violent revenge thriller that never rises above one dimension. As a formidable A-list action pic, the film is an unexciting throwaway. As an R-rated exploitationer, it doesn't understand that such a thing should actually be fun to watch. When the end credits arrive, so does the audience's invitation to never have to think about the thought-deprived "Shooter" again.