Never was the Mark Wahlberg rule more fully in effect than in Shooter, Antoine Fuqua’s muscular 2007 snipe-fest. What exactly was the Mark Wahlberg rule, you ask? Simple, after finding a niche of being routinely the best thing in movies such as The Departed and I Heart Huckabees despite having a supporting role, the former Marky Mark would subsequently be cast in bland leading roles that bizarrely would see him unable to utilize any of that breathless charisma to everyone’s benefit.
And so the rageaholic Sgt. Dingham and the overly passionate Tommy Corn would eventually segue into characters like the internalised Bob Lee Swagger (no, really) in a flashy and slick action thriller that contains all the explosions and government conspiracies you could ask for and yet is impressively off target when it comes to being actually gripping. Thankfully, the Wahlberg rule isn’t really a thing anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still lurking within this po-faced snipe-em-up.
Supernaturally talented force recon sniper gunnery Bob Lee Swagger (that fucking name) has retired to the standard, remote, log cabin that seemingly comes with a loyal dog as standard in order to get over the death of his spotter that was caused when they were abandoned mid-mission by their CIA support team. His belief in the USA, severely tarnished, Swagger has happily spirited himself away in Wyoming for three years, until he’s visited by by retired US Army Colonel Issac Johnson who claims that he needs the retired sniper’s expertise to thwart a possible attempt on the President’s life and after a number of attempts, Bob agrees.
However, after doing all the recon and figuring out that Philadelphia will definitely where the assassin’s bullet will strike, Swagger finds out too late that he’s been hired to be the patsy in a conspiracy that isn’t targeting the president at all, but instead pumps a long range peach of a shot into the brainpan of the guy standing next to the Commander in Chief – Ethiopian Archbishop Desmond Mutumbo. Following conspiracy etiquette to the letter, Bob catches a few bullets himself from a paid-off street cop recruited to be the hero that takes down the President’s would-be murderer, but despite taking shots to the chest and hip, he manages to escape from the authorities.
While he takes shelter and heals in the house of his previous spotter’s widow, Sarah, rookie FBI Agent Nick Memphis thinks he’s cracked what’s really going on after a run-in with Swagger immediately after the shooting. Knowing that clearing his name will be next to impossible, Swagger resolves to instead hunt down Johnson and the rest of his group before they hunt him down and solve matters the best way he’s knows how. Slotting someone from over a mile away.
Despite the noticable blip that was the fantastic Training Day, Antoine Fuqua seems to have built a career out of making defiantly three-star action thrillers that almost makes up for their bland plots with slick bombast and production values that vaguely rival contemporaries like fellow Wahlberg conspirators Michael Bay and Peter Berg. While his output – which contains everything from the Equalizer franchise to Olympus Has Fallen – rarely rates above being merely watchable, there’s always been a sence that the director could use a spotter of his own when it comes to selecting projects as his aim almost always agonizingly pulls just south of memorable and Shooter is no exception.
Apart from some admittedly strenuous action sequences (what, you didn’t think he’d tackle every problem by lying on his belly, draped in grassy chamo while being miles away, did you?), Wahlberg isn’t called on to do much more than fix everyone with a steely glare and reel off impressive stats about how fucking hard it is for someone to make a particular shot. But while he capably relates figures concerning wind resistance and curvature of the earth (take that flat earth brigade), Wahlberg constantly forgets to be even remotely engaging, choosing instead to be an emotional blank slate with all the charisma of a paving slab.
Still, at least playing this stoney faced crack shot involves putting in a consistent performance, unlike the sledgehammer southern accent that movie requires of poor Kate Mara, who hasn’t much to do aside from play nurse, get kidnapped, get tortured and get rescued while her speech patterns sound more clumsily dubbed than a 70’s Japanese monster movie. Some sort of salvation lies in the form of the always dependable Michael Peña, whose innocent FBI Agent attempts to single handed add a bit of fun into a movie that clearly doesn’t want to have any, but it’s nice that he tried, even if his character veers a bit too far into the realms of the unbelievable when Swagger teaches him to become a crack shot himself after what feels like an afternoon of sniper school.
It’s a shame, because the movie isn’t afraid to sneak behind the enemy lines of dumb every now and and it would have been nice if it was willing to embrace it with a little more self awareness. Take the moment when we’re supposed to believe that the villain’s men have a ridiculously complicated, Saw-like contraption they strap a victim into when they want to accurately fake a suicide by self inflicted gunshot; or that after being visibly and visciously tortured by Elias Koteas, Mara’s heroine shows up in the snowy finale without a single mark on her; or in order to put himself under for a makeshift operation, Swagger gets blitzed on the gas from spray cans of cream.
Still, it’s nice to see the likes of Danny Glover and Ned Beatty show up as shadowy baddies and the action is nice a professional with the opening mission and a mid-film ambush providing lots of satisfying headshots and more than one man vs. helicopter confrontations, its just somewhat frustrating that the conspiracy malarkey that surrounds it couldn’t have been a smidge more engrossing than watching clothes go round in a tumble dryer which would have had the noisy bits actually mean something.
Choosing to squander its lead’s star power by having him blandly portray a role literally any other actor could have played equally as well, Shooter repeatedly takes picks the easy targets when it should be firing wild – imagine how high the stakes would have been if the President had been the target?
A bargain basement thriller with flashy visuals and a star name, Shooter takes those aspects and promptly – misses the Mark.