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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shooter

My cousin Margaret (“Don’t call me ‘Maggie’!”) has been a fan of Mark Wahlberg’s since his days posing (almost) naked on a billboard in Times Square as a shill for some underpants campaign. She couldn’t get enough of her “Marky Mark” as he was known back then, and she has probably spent more time (ahem) enjoying her own company with thoughts of Mr. Wahlberg at hand than she has with just about any other Hollywood star. Frankly, that’s not a picture I want to dwell on. After all, she is my cousin. Plus, she looks more like Doris Roberts than Julia Roberts if you are going to conjure up your own fantasy picture here, and that’s just not a pretty woman vision I want to imagine. Anyway, Margaret (“Don’t call me ‘Maggie’!”) has spent the past ten years wearing out DVD copies of Boogie Nights from watching them over and over again. She has been as addicted to Boogie Nights as some people seem to be to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, only she doesn’t get hit in the head every showing by flying toast. What she might get hit with I don’t want to dwell on either. So you are asking yourself ‘What has this got to do with the price of tea in China?’ as my grandmother used to put it. Well, nothing, really, except when I told Margaret (“Don’t call me ‘Maggie’!”) that I was going to the Essex Cinemas to see Wahlberg’s newest release, Shooter. That was a mistake. Margaret (“Don’t call me ‘Maggie’!”) had her coat on in less than two seconds and was at the front door waiting for me. She was determined to join me, convinced with a name like Shooter it had to be a long-awaited (at least by her) sequel to Boogie Nights.

Quell surprise. It wasn’t. Instead, Shooter was one of Wahlberg’s usual bullets-and-blood epics guaranteeing lots of explosions, gun-play, and a mounting body count, which is to another way of saying that it is quite entertaining. As these things go, Shooter has a clever storyline and is full of twists that keep the plot jumping. Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a former government sniper who has retired to the mountains after a mission gone bad in which his spotter (played by Lane Garrison of tv’s “Prison Break”) who was also his best friend, was killed. Now, three years later, he is lured out of his quiet life by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover; Dreamgirls), who insists that only Swagger has the expertise to help him. There has been a threat against the President and Johnson wants Swagger to help him map how, theoretically, this would-be assassin might be able to pull off his plan since it would involve shooting from a distance of a mile away, something only a couple of people in the world are trained to do, Swagger being one of them. Um. Hello? Okay, I haven’t been trained by the FBI, the CIA but even I can smell a set-up coming, so why can’t Swagger? Oh, yeah, it would make for a 15 minute movie.

So Swagger is screwed and the stage is set for a combination of The Fugitive and just about every Bruce Willis action thriller ever made. Yep. This is pretty much a Bruce Willis Die Hard movie sans Bruce and a catchy pun-tinged title. Of course Wahlberg at least has his hair, so he’s got that advantage, but he doesn’t smirk half as well to the camera as Bruce, which means that Shooter is all seriousness all the time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Still
Shooter is great fun in spite of itself. Wahlberg does a sturdy job and brings a layer of humanity to what is pretty much written as a one dimensional character. You can either take him as ‘drawn’ and watch the man move through the action doing what the script says he is supposed to or you can let yourself go and enjoy Wahlberg’s performance on a subtler level. He imbues scenes with pages of dialogue never spoken but relayed just through the look in his eyes and by the stance of his body language. What the story doesn’t tell explicitly Wahlberg lets you know through him. He shows why he deserved that Academy Award nomination this year for The Departed. Don’t get me wrong. This is no The Departed by any means, but it isn’t the catastrophe a lot of critics will condemn it as being considering where they believe Wahlberg’s career should be headed thanks to his Academy nod.

Michael Peña (World Trade Center) deserves credit too for his role as the newly graduated FBI
agent who gets sucked into the conspiracy behind framing Swagger for the assassination. His Nick Memphis begins as a tentative and almost nerdy twit who then turns into the super-agent who figures out what none of his seasoned colleagues are capable of doing. He offers a quiet yet persuasive performance that will make you want to keep an eye out for him in the future.

By the explosive finale of
Shooter, I looked over at Margaret (“Don’t call me ‘Maggie’!”) and found her in a gleeful state of Wahlberg fervor that would keep her happy for days to come. This is by far Wahlberg’s most exciting offering since The Italian Job and will hopefully help establish him as the heir apparent to Mr. Willis as the first 21st century big action star. Shooter is a fun shoot ‘em up, with a smart couple of turns along the way to keep you on your toes and wide awake for the whole ride, and quite a ride it is indeed!

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