Oh, no they didn’t! In Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter, a patriotic super-sniper (Mark Wahlberg) is abandoned by his commanders during a peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia, then, after a two-and-a-half year retirement spent up in the mountains with his Budweiser-fetching dog, is convinced to help foil a presidential assassination attempt, and then is framed for the hit by his corrupt superiors, who shortly thereafter kidnap his loyal girl (Kate Mara). What’s a hardhearted killing machine to do? If your name is Bob Lee Swagger, you, well, swagger in slow motion in front of the American flag and backdrops of exploding buildings, stoically fume over your beloved homeland’s crooked powers-that-be, and slaughter to your heart’s content. Swagger’s personal war against genocidal, oil-rich politicos (namely, Ned Beatty’s wicked senator) and their paramilitary henchmen (led by Danny Glover’s evil so-and-so) contains a pungent whiff of anti-Americanism, with its Iraq and Abu Ghraib references clunkily updating ’70s thrillers’ paranoia of Big Brother. However, if a brazen rage against our current administrative machine, Fuqua’s film—like 24, it and every other topical thriller’s kindred spirit—is also typified by the sort of conservative, lone ranger pro-vigilantism that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a Reagan-era Commando megastar. That said, parsing Shooter’s schizophrenic political allegiances is made difficult by both a plot-holed script (based on a Stephen Hunter novel) and an incessant barrage of gunfire, napalm blasts, and camo-shrouded stealth kills that Fuqua handles with vigorous aplomb. As Swagger’s rogue F.B.I. agent sidekick, Michael Peña merely helps forward the inconsequential story, and as the widow of Swagger’s former comrade and best bud, Mara proves that her rural Kentucky accent isn’t in nearly the shape that her body is. While the film’s one-man-army heroics radiate nostalgia for ’80s action adventures, Wahlberg’s stern, humorless performance is missing that Bruce Willis smirk, that Schwarzenegger cockiness and anger, that Stallone mouth-droop—that extra something—that might imbue his invincible soldier with a captivating personality. Though, in his favor, I can’t think of another recent cinematic tough-guy who’s done anything quite as badass-cool as Swagger’s decision to manage the pain of makeshift bullet-removal surgery by doing copious amounts of whippets.
Skin tones are smashing but black levels leave something to be desired. Of course, since the color palette essentially evokes a two-hour-plus cut scene from a video game, you must essentially embrace the film as if it were a first-person shooter. As for the perpetual gunfire, let’s just say Tony Scott fans won’t be disappointed.
According to Antoine Fuqua, Shooter is something of an allegory about our country’s relationship to oil ("from the end of a gun" is how we ostensibly deal with this obsession). If it’s impossible to take the director seriously, it’s only because much of his commentary revolves around the semantics of blowing things up on the set-when, where, and if it was necessary at all. By discussion’s end, you could say his chatter repositions the film as an allegory about how Hollywood films are made in this time and age. On the featurette front: "Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter" is nothing if not thorough, beginning with an almost obsessive regard for the way shooters blow stuff up (watch your wind direction!), and "Independence Hall" delves into our country’s history to make a case for Philadelphia as the perfect place to kill the leader of the free world. Rounding out the disc is seven deleted scenes and trailers for Zodiac and Black Snake Moan.
Would that Wahlberg’s Bob Lee Swagger took aim at the critic on the back of the DVD cover who praises the way the actor "hits the target."