Solid acting and brave stuntmen elevate Shooter to a so-so movie--but yes, it needed to be elevated to get there. In other words: for hardcore action junkies looking for a quick fix only.
For 15 minutes or so, there is an actual story in Shooter--which, to the film's credit, is about 15 minutes more than expected. Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is a former Marine scout-sniper dynamo who lost his best friend/spotter (the legally troubled Lane Garrison) three years earlier in combat in Ethiopia, for which he ultimately holds the government accountable. Presently, he shuns his once-beloved government and lives in seclusion in the mountains until a retired colonel, Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), manages to track him down. He talks Swagger into helping foil an assassination attempt on the president, but there's an ulterior motive: Johnson plans to frame him for the attempt. Needless to say, everything gets botched, including the capture of Swagger, who is now on the lam. And then--bam! The 15 minutes of interesting, somewhat inventive story bits are gone, as Swagger tries to merely stay alive with the help of his late Marine partner's girlfriend (Kate Mara) and one of the few remaining uncorrupt FBI agents (Michael Pena).
It was not long ago that Wahlberg was the butt of many a Hollywood joke and late-night TV monologue for trying erase his Marky Mark days by taking the "serious actor" plunge. In the last few years, and culminating with his Oscar-nominated turn in The Departed, he has built perhaps the widest fan base of any actor. In Shooter, said fans will be rooting for Wahlberg aloud, even though this is more of antihero role. He's gruff, rough and ultra-virile, and it actually works without a hint of unintentional humor on his part. If he's willing to stay the action-hero course, Wahlberg might just be this generation's Arnold, Bruce or Sly. Keeping Wahlberg on top of his game is Glover. Long the go-to good guy in movies, Glover was certainly an illogical choice for the villain, but the transition goes smoothly for him thanks to his always-composed delivery and demeanor. Rising stars Pena (World Trade Center) and Mara (Zoom) play for sidekick laughs and looks, respectively. Pena, whose role is rightfully meatier, is an actor to keep an eye on.
With the exception of Little Miss Sunshine's husband-and-wife duo, "former music video director" is starting to carry with it the same negative connotation as "former child actor." Shooter's director, Antoine Fuqua, is a former music video director. Fuqua, like most of his aforementioned kind, can create a gorgeously stylized action sequence but seemingly little else, and if it weren't for his overrated, Denzel-carried Training Day, he'd likely be back to full-time music video duty given his many past bombs. His work on Shooter offers some nifty tactical/survival scenes and, again, cool action sequences, but the lack of depth and any semblance of realism is a bit overwhelming. Speaking of which, the writing of such a non-story, in this case by Jonathan Lemkin (The Devil's Advocate), is just as guilty. The interesting backstory is that the script is adapted from a novel by a movie critic (The Washington Post's Stephen Hunter), and man, he must be feeling violated right about now! As a non-reader of the book, I can only hope the original Swagger was not written as a sniper-turned-Rambo/Terminator hybrid and that the story is not equal parts human implausibilities and government diatribes--as is written by the screenwriter.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.