[Screen It]

(2007) (Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena) (R)

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Action/Adventure: Having been set up as the fall guy in a political assassination, a former military sniper sets out to get revenge on those who wronged him.
Three years after being left for dead behind enemy lines in Ethiopia where his spotter partner was killed, military sniper Bob Lee Swagger (MARK WAHLBERG) leads a quiet life in the woods with his faithful dog. Then, out of the blue, Col. Isaac Johnson (DANNY GLOVER) and his small entourage, including Jack Payne (ELIAS KOTEAS), show up with a request. They claim they've discovered an inside plot to kill the President of the U.S. and thus need Swagger's expertise in the field to catch the shooter before he commits the act.

The former gunnery sergeant is reluctant, but the call to serve his country is too strong. Accordingly, he ends up in Philadelphia where the President is scheduled to make a public appearance with the Ethiopian Archbishop. Before he knows it, the latter is shot dead, and a local cop then shoots and wounds Swagger who nevertheless manages to escape, but not before running into rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (MICHAEL PENA).

Realizing he's been set up as the assassin, Swagger tends to his wounds and, with nowhere else to turn, finds his former partner's widow, Sarah Fenn (KATE MARA), for help. As Nick discovers inconsistencies regarding the belief that Swagger is the perp, the sniper sets out both to clear his name and to get revenge on those who've wronged him, including Johnson, former sniper turned operative Michael Sandor (RADE SERBEDZIJA), and corrupt U.S. Senator Charles F. Meachum (NED BEATTY).

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
It doesn't make any difference who you are or if you're rich or poor -- at one or more points in your life, someone is going to take advantage of you. Such wrongdoings can run the gamut from trivial to life-threatening, but all pretty much elicit the same reaction from the victim -- the desire for justice to be served.

That can range anywhere from simply reporting the infraction to fantasizing about the perpetrator's demise. Since most civilized people don't ever act upon the latter, they turn to fiction for vicarious and cathartic retribution against the general thought of wrongdoers.

Whether it's through novels, TV shows or movies, readers and viewers enjoy watching the wronged striking back. Moreover, the worse the villain, and the more proficient the victim is in doling out justice against them, the greater the odds of audiences connecting with the work.

All of which means "Shooter" should be a big hit. Based on Stephen Hunter's novel "Point of Impact," the story is about a military sniper who not only is left for dead behind enemy lines by his commanding unit, but also is later set up as the fall guy in a government-based assassination plot involving the President of the U.S.

Historically, snipers are something of pariahs among the military, viewed as solitary and hardened sorts highly efficient at extinguishing life, whereas others in the military see killing as an unavoidable result of battle (yes, the distinction splits hairs, but does exist).

Thus, once director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") -- working from Jonathan Lemkin's adaptation of Hunter's original story -- completes the setup, we know the protagonist will be quite proficient in getting the job done of clearing his name and getting revenge on those who wronged him.

As that man and following in the footsteps of many such movie creations before him, Mark Wahlberg is decent in creating a believable character for whom we root to succeed. While his portrayal of no-nonsense retribution is probably accurate, it may have helped to make him somewhat more charismatic (think of Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" or Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon") and thus a bit more accessible to viewers.

By design and default, that attribute goes to the rookie FBI agent played by Michael Pena. Not exactly the sidekick (although most of the film's humor involves him), the character originates from the other movie convention of the lone authority figure who bucks the system, direct orders from above, and the common shared belief of the masses to prove that his hunch is right.

Filling the estrogen fix among all of the testosterone is Kate Mara playing the widow of Swagger's spotter partner (who dies in the opening sequence after making the cardinal military movie sin of showing his buddy a photo of his girl back home). While they thankfully don't end up in bed as might be expected, her role late in the film is rote for this genre.

Danny Glover and Ned Beatty decently portray despicable government corruption, but don't flesh out their characters enough to make them interesting, while Elias Koteas' character unexpectedly goes the lech route toward Sarah (presumably to emphasize what a slimy guy his character is, as if we didn't already know that). Scenes featuring Rade Serbedzija as a former assassin turned government operative don't have as much punch as presumably intended, especially considering the loose parallel relationship between the two.

Of course, theme and character depth are just window dressing for what through and through is just a hard-hitting action flick about revenge. In that sense, the filmmakers solidly deliver the goods, with plenty of mayhem and firepower for those who get into such material. None of it's as slick or as fun as what John McTiernan or Richard Donner have delivered in their prime, and it does take some suspension of disbelief to buy into what transpires. Yet, it mostly works for what it's trying to do and be, and thus "Shooter" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 14, 2007 / Posted March 23, 2007

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