Caprio, Matt Damon and even Jack Nicholson in “The Departed,” Academy Award-nominee Mark Wahlberg has returned to give us July-style patriotism in March. You need only the 10-second slow-motion shot of a gruff Wahlberg in shades striding audaciously before a gigantic U.S. flag to know that “Shooter” will find significant mass appeal. We may often be disturbed by the brainless, violent, mind-numbing action that audiences flock to (“300”), but there are no such worries here. This is one smart shooter.

Drew Philp
“Damn, that girl is fine.” (Courtesy of Paramount)

For once, Wahlberg pokes fun at his typical swagger – with a name like Bob Lee Swagger, how could his former U.S. Marine sniper not be a self-conscious jab? Swagger is literally the world’s best marksman, a guy who can splatter a soup can set on a hill more than a mile away. But after a military operation in Ethiopia went bad, he and his spotter were abandoned by the government in enemy territory. Bob shot his way through that mess but his friend did not survive, and he’s been a disgruntled recluse living in the woods of Wyoming ever since.

Sure enough, one day a black truck rolls up carrying Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, “Gone Fishin'”) and the FBI. They’ve discovered a plot to assassinate the president; the shot will be taken from a distance only Swagger can comprehend. They want him to help unravel the plot by telling them what to look for and what areas to guard.

Reluctantly Swagger agrees – and learns only with a bullet in his shoulder that the assassination plot was engineered by Johnson himself. Gravely injured and framed by rogue elements within the military and the FBI, Swagger staggers into the darkness, vowing to return soon and make sure justice is served.

Though seemingly the love child of red-state uber-patriotism (where the Second Amendment comes first and the southern wall is already being built), “Shooter” actually has no love for that mindset – 60-inch rifles with foot-long bullets notwithstanding. Just like the best war films have always been anti-war films, “Shooter’s” triumphs branch well beyond heart-pounding action; it finds the true spirit of patriotism by decrying government officials who exploit it.

The biggest enemies in the film are brutal military generals, corrupt politicians and a complicit FBI. The heroes are those who leave the corrupt establishment and risk everything to make things right. The film uses the considerable capital it has among middle Americans (thanks to lots of flags, southern accents and one of Hollywood’s current man’s-man stars) to take subtle shots at those who will have you believe that loving your country is loving its every mistake.

Departing considerably from the main narrative, it comments specifically on the Abu-Ghraib scandal, the missing WMDs and even Anna Nicole Smith. Never overreaching but always poignantly present, these themes lift a passable action flick into the ranks of a decent commentary on the post-Sept. 11 neo-con agenda.

But don’t let all that jargon make you think “Shooter” is a film to watch in a 400-level political science class. It’s thoroughly entertaining, with plenty of good-guy/bad-guy showdowns, and if it happens to be a little deeper, that’s quite alright with me.

Three and a half stars out of five

Shooter
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Paramount

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