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Friday, March 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Not much, but plenty of Swagger in action-overloaded "Shooter"

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Shooter," with Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pea, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, from a screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin, based on the novel "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter.

126 minutes. Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language. Several theaters.

Mark Wahlberg, in "Shooter," is so tough, you could serve him on a plate at a greasy-spoon diner, with potatoes on the side. As Bob Lee Swagger (not exactly the name of a milquetoast), a former Marine scout sniper, he single-handedly overcomes swarms of cops, large dogs, bullets, submerged cars, fire, urban chaos, reckless driving, primitive surgery and some very scary hit men. Plus, in a macho-movie master stroke, he's taught his own dog to fetch beer from the fridge. Match that, Rambo.

Yes, the testosterone meter is high in this competent if uninspired action thriller from Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Tears of the Sun"), based on Stephen Hunter's novel "Point of Impact." Swagger, a combat hero and uncanny sharpshooter, has walked away from military work in disillusionment, sequestering himself in a remote mountain cabin with dog, beer and plenty of weaponry. This idyll is interrupted by a carful of military men, led by a retired colonel (Danny Glover), with a request: Could Swagger swagger down from that mountain and help them ward off an imminent assassination attempt on the president?

Reluctantly, Swagger does so, and it's not one of his better decisions. A shot is indeed fired at the president, and Swagger, it turns out, has been set up to take the fall. Quickly, he's on the lam, trying to unmask the conspiracy while every television screen in America displays his face as the presidential assassin. But he's not entirely alone, enlisting the help of a long-ago friend's widow (Kate Mara, Heath Ledger's grown-up daughter in "Brokeback Mountain") and a rookie FBI agent (Michael Peña) who defies his colleagues, sensing that perhaps Swagger wasn't the gunman after all. (For his pains, a senior G-woman delivers to him the immortal line, "You're asking questions way above your pay grade.")

All of this unfolds briskly, if somewhat predictably, and plenty of standard-issue action-thriller scenes roll by: the hero typing madly on a computer screen, while tense music plays; the heroine placed in sudden danger, a development telegraphed by Mara stripping down to a bra. And there are plenty of moments of Wahlberg grimacing, in a lower-rent-Tom-Cruise-ish way, so we remember that this guy's been shot up with bullets and really should be lying down, rather than running around uncovering conspiracies.

Action-wise, it all works as intended, but "Shooter" lacks the character drama of Fuqua's "Training Day" (which won Denzel Washington his first Oscar). Part of the problem is Jonathan Lemkin's screenplay, which tells us things about Swagger rather than showing us. "He's a man with a history of duty and patriotism," says Glover, making sure we get it.

Wahlberg, a recent Academy Award nominee for "The Departed," never makes his character distinctive but rather relies on his usual flinty toughness. The role of action hero suits him, with his bland good looks and impressive biceps, but there isn't a real performance here. Perhaps that's just as well; it'd be lost among the gunfire, anyway.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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