Muscles bulge and heads explode in Shooter, a thoroughly reprehensible, satisfyingly violent entertainment about men and guns and things that go boom (heads, mostly).
Did I mention the exploding heads? It is an admittedly primitive pleasure, but I do love watching stuff blow up in movies (heads, not so much). There is something unaccountably gratifying, at times reassuring about watching the screen — the bigger the better — become engulfed by surging waves of liquid orange, in the image of a car exploding into the air like a rocket, in a room, a building, a boat, a truck, you name it, shattering into confetti.
The late 1980s and 1990s were good times for big movie bangs and bulging movie muscle. It was the golden age of bad boys and Boy Scouts, wisecracks and careless, loving, hardcore American violence. Sept. 11 may have dampened our appetite for destruction, and I know that I squirmed uncomfortably while watching Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, a cheap 2002 action film with too many falling bodies. But the violence returned with a vengeance soon after the attacks and now signs of war are everywhere on the big screen, in the torture scenes that seem increasingly de rigueur whether it's James Bond or a tourist strapped to a chair, in foreign affairs and exotic adventures and, yes, even inside the sightlines of Shooter.
The story has the simplicity of a fairy tale: A former military sniper, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), having opted out of the marines after an unfortunate escapade abroad, has retreated into the deep woods with his dog and his guns. An updated, upgraded Jeremiah Johnson, with a garden full of vegetables and a fridge stocked with beer, Swagger comes across as something of a Zen mountain man. He lives simply (but has a computer) and dresses plainly (but wears a trendsetter's beard). He seems at peace in this world as he sits on a crest overlooking the forest. Yet the world is not at peace, as we know from the first few minutes of the film set someplace dusty and scary and far, far away.
ShooterDirected by: Antoine FuquaStarring: Mark Wahlberg (Bob Lee Swagger), Michael Pena (Nick Memphis), Danny Glover (Col. Isaac Johnson), Kate Mara (Sarah Fenn), Elias Koteas (Jack Payne), Rhona Mitra (Alourdes Galindo), Rade Sherbedgia (Michael Sandor)Running time: 126 minutesTaiwan Release: Today
Guns must be raised, and that beard really has to come off. And so they do and so it does, as Swagger comes down off his mountain and drops into an assassination intrigue stocked with villainy and weapons. There are black helicopters, a spunky redhead (Kate Mara) and a shootout boldly painted in red, white and blue. The redhead looks good in a miniskirt and twirls a rifle as lightly as a baton; mostly she ogles Wahlberg, who, once he shaves his beard, provides ample opportunity for eyeball strain. A natural screen presence, Wahlberg is charmingly sincere (he's like a cruder, more street Matt Damon), though when he sheds his clothes the glint in his eyes is as knowing as that of an old Vegas stripper.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Jonathan Lemkin, Shooter is based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter, who, when not turning out pulp fictions, works as a film critic for the Washington Post.
Fuqua, the auteur of such rococo diversions as Training Day and Tears of the Sun, likes to keep the volume cranked and the action relentless. Like many contemporary action directors, he overshoots and overedits, cramming his films with inexplicable, unnecessary visual and aural noise. This maximalist approach can tax the nerves, though it has the benefit of keeping you on alert. It's also pretty enjoyable.