I can see the Hollywood pitch meeting for this movie: “Imagine Rambo meets The Bourne Identity crossed with In The Line of Fire.” And that’s pretty much what you get. Except with lots more things exploding, including the odd head or two. Wahlburg is Bob Lee Swagger, a hotshot Marine sniper who quit when an African mission went wrong and his spotter was killed. So he’s now holed up in the mountains, with just his dog, his guns and his requisite Grizzly Adams beard for company.

Then along comes the government to mess up his peaceful existence, in the person of Colonel Johnson (Glover). Johnson works for a secret, unnamed government agency that has uncovered a plot to assassinate the president, and Swagger’s skills as a marksman are needed to help them foil the attempt. Well, what they actually need him to do is PLAN a presidential assassination, but only to show them how it would be done so they can stop whoever it is that’s trying to carry it out. Swagger agrees (as the audiences screams at him not to be sucked in — you just KNOW he’s going to be double-crossed). And double crossed he is — at a rally in Philadelphia, an attempt is made on the life of the president, for which Swagger is framed. Shot twice and being pursued by the police, Secret Service and FBI, Swagger goes on the run to try to find out who set him up, and why.

So Shooter now easily segues from a conspiracy flick to a full-on action film with car chases, foot chases, gunfights and explosions aplenty. Swagger has but two people on his side — rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Pena), who is the only agent to realise Swagger could not have been involved in the attempt, and Sarah (Mara), the widow of his Marine partner.

Shooter is very much a boys' flick. Fuqua, who directed Training Day, has a real knack for this sort of film, and keeps the plot moving along smoothly and with minimal lag. It’s a lot like an entire season of 24 compressed into two hours. With, of course, a hell of a lot more blood. Wahlburg — looking very much like a buff Matt Damon — suitably underplays the role; Swagger is no superman, just a highly-trained soldier who can, and does, get hurt. Glover (who's probably getting too old for this shit) is terrific as the bad-guy pretending to be a good-guy, and Beatty is creepily sleazy as the corrupt senator behind the set-up. The film as a whole wears its politics on its sleeve — there’s a few timely digs at the current Bush administration, but it glorifies guns and violence a little to much to be considered truly left wing. However, forget any preaching, switch off the brain, sit back and enjoy — there’s plenty here to satisfy the action junkie.

Funny how some novels get snapped up straight away by film studios and others get left, quite literally, on the shelf. Take Stephen Hunter’s novels, for example. An award-winning film critic with the Washington Post, Hunter’s crime thrillers are simply fantastic. Intelligent, action-packed, genuinely unputdownable (I’ve had the bags under my eyes to prove it) and written with a film-lover’s visual sense, they seemed a shoo-in for a big screen adaptation. Yet Shooter — based on Hunter’s Point of Impact — has taken 14 years to get the attention.

Sadly, while Shooter works at a pure chest-thumping, testosterone-fuelled level, it’s not the film that Hunter fans will have been waiting for. That’s probably not surprising given that it’s helmed by Fuqua. He may have helped Denzel Washington to an Oscar in Training Day but he’s also the man behind The Replacement Killers, King Arthur and several Toni Braxton videos. Nobody’s going to question his visual sense or way with an explosion but subtlety? Hmm. Not his strongpoint.

Hunter loves a conspiracy theory and that’s what you get here. However, under Fuqua’s guidance it’s much more about the bullets and bombs than depth. It still has some intelligence present, which is a relief, and Wahlberg convinces both in blowing things up and suggesting that there’s something going on behind Swagger’s eyes. However, the result is little more than a fairly typical thriller. Yes, it presses the right basic buttons and the Saturday night crowd should lap it up. But fans of Hunter’s work will feel a little disappointed. There’s certainly nothing here to suggest the franchise the books deserve. There is though plenty to suggest that, should the franchise take off, Fuqua shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.

Official Site
Shooter at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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