- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

No need for Sylvester Stallone to tie on his Rambo bandana again. “Shooter” shows us just what a 21st century “Rambo” would look like.

Antoine Fuqua’s new action film transforms Mark Wahlberg into a one-man killing machine, but he’s not always sure where to train his scope. The moral ambiguities pile up higher than the bodies, although by the final reel it’s a photo finish.

Mr. Wahlberg, taking a breather from all that acting stuff in “The Departed,” is Bob Lee Swagger, one of the country’s best snipers. He walked away from the U.S. military after his partner was killed in a botched mission, and now he lives a simple, isolated country life with his dog.

A team of government officials, led by Danny Glover, pays him a visit one day. They’ve learned someone will try to shoot the president during an East Coast swing of appearances, and they need Bob to think like a sniper and tell them where he would take the shot.

The reluctant marksman agrees, but it turns out the assassination plot isn’t as advertised.

Bob has been double-crossed, and now he must side with a neophyte FBI agent (Michael Pena) to get his revenge.

Mr. Wahlberg’s Bob makes MacGyver look like a greenhorn. He fashions bombs out of stuff he grabs in a hardware store, tends to his own bullet wounds and turns Mr. Pena’s raw recruit into a veritable Green Beret.

The Oscar nominee conveys both the intelligence to pull off such dubious tricks and the brawn to make it all look easy. It’s not so much a performance as a cardiovascular workout, and Mr. Wahlberg deserves a medal for his hustle.

He gets some help from Kate Mara, who plays a plot device — we mean, his slain partner’s love who tends to Bob before she becomes the obligatory hostage.

“Shooter” grabs us with the intricacies of a sniper’s world, from the range of his weapon to the minutiae he must master to make the kill.

Jonathan Lemkin’s screenplay, based on Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter’s novel “Point of Impact,” takes swipes at missing WMDs, Abu Ghraib and a host of similarly static targets. The dialogue crackles one minute, then devolves into something you’d hear in a Steven Seagal movie the next. A Sherman tank could rumble through some of the bigger plot holes.

What keeps our interest is the nagging uncertainty of where to place our loyalties.

When in doubt, go with Mr. Wahlberg, who, despite his real-life scuffles with the law as a teen, continues to radiate decency on-screen.

“Shooter” is better than the kind of standard shoot ‘em up we saw in “Rambo’s” heyday, thanks to a convincing lead performance and Mr. Fuqua’s eye for mayhem.

However, despite the modern references, it still seems so 1980s in the worst of ways.

**1/2

TITLE: “Shooter”

RATING: R (Extreme violence, bloody imagery, adult language and partial nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Jonathan Lemkin based on the book “Point of Impact” by Stephen Hunter.

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

WEB SITE: www.shootermovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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