Well-worn plot doesn't keep 'Shooter' from hitting target

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"Even paranoids have enemies." -- Anonymous

Imagine it: A patriotic, law-abiding American military or police hero is framed, turned into a hunted fugitive and charged with a heinous crime he must solve on the lam.

Paramount Pictures
Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger in "Shooter."
Click photo for larger image.


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Ned Beatty.
Director: Antoine Fuqua.
Rating: R for strong graphic violence and some language.
Web site: www.shootermovie.com/

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Don't bother imagining it. Just have your people contact my people, and we'll send you a list of the 78 films and 903 television shows that have previously employed some variation of that plot.

Nasty brickbats about originality, however, do not constitute dismissal of "Shooter," an edgy new thriller by director Antoine Fuqua. It's the tale of rogue Marine marksman Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), living in disillusioned exile ever since a disastrous mission that took the life of his best friend and target "spotter" in Ethiopia.

The shooter-spotter relationship, someone has observed, is as intimate as two soldiers can get without asking or telling. Anyway, three years later, Swagger is coaxed back into action by quasi-government intelligence operative Danny Glover (and his slimy sub-contractor cohort, Elias Koteas). His mission: to thwart an assassination plot against the president, scheduled for -- where else? -- Philadelphia.

Swagger's job is to shadow and stop the sniper beforehand, but things get screwed up, a shot is fired and a prominent diplomat is killed. Suddenly, Swagger finds himself framed as the assassin and, with two bullets in him, on the run from every law-enforcement agent in North America. Only his spotter's widow (Kate Mara) and a rookie FBI agent (Michael Pena) come to his aid.

Well, he also comes to his own first aid, self-medicating a kind of Quik-Clot emergency triage to his gunshot wounds along the way.

Adapted by screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin from the novel "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter, "Shooter" reflects an ongoing alienation from government in the wake of the 2000 election, the 9/11 attack and the war in Iraq. Slowly but surely, Swagger sees it's all about oil money. As repulsive fat-cat senator (Ned Beatty) tells him, there are no more heroes and villains: In today's America, it's every capitalist for himself.

Good guys vs. bad guys against impossible odds is the stuff of films Stallone and Schwarzenegger used to churn out regularly. But in the shift from Reagan-era jingoism to Bush-era cynicism, Wahlberg's diffident brand of machismo is more appealing, not to mention believable.

Slickly directed by Fuqua with admirably low-tech but still spectacular action sequences, "Shooter" is a tense, engaging yarn with periodic surprises. Never mind the spunky-but-useless token female or the unlikely hero who takes on the whole federal government. It won't give anything away to say that, in the apocalyptic end, vengeance is his and the (precious few) survivors live happily ever after.

Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .


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