"Shooter" is a film that wants to be another "Enemy of the State," that brilliant, paranoid 1998 feature about a man who's framed by sinister forces in the American government and finds a way to make things right. It starred Will Smith and Gene Hackman, each of whom has the ability to take over a movie at any time and compel us by force of their screen personas to watch and listen, mesmerized, to everything they do.
In "Shooter," though, there are two problems that come close to defeating the film; both are related to the star, Mark Wahlberg, and the director, Antoine Fuqua. Wahlberg's natural voice and speech are slurred, unarticulated, uninflected. He speaks as though trying to rush through breakfast and get away. It takes a powerful director to calm him down, slow things up, and make him think as an actor about what he's trying to convey to the audience. In "The Departed," the experienced Martin Scorsese did exactly that as his director, and it paid off with an Academy Award nomination for Wahlberg. Here I believe Fuqua was so intent on getting the mechanics of plot and action right - and there's an incredible amount of action from start to finish - that he left Wahlberg to his own devices, nearly ruining the film. Wahlberg speaks at a machine-gun pace and with what you could say is a virtual dishrag in his mouth. So instead of making an emotional connection with us in the audience he leaves us flat and uninvolved.
Which is a shame, because the film's story, based on the novel "Point of Impact," by Stephen Hunter, is both slick and compelling. Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger, a former Marine sharpshooter who can kill at distances over a mile. In a prologue, he and his spotter have been sent to Ethiopia to stop a supposed convoy of rebel troops; instead, the incident turns out to have been manufactured by the Americans and it costs the life of his spotter. Enraged, Swagger quits the service and retires to a mountain cabin in Wyoming (those sequences were actually shot in the mountains of British Columbia).
Then one day an army colonel (Danny Glover) comes to the cabin to tell Swagger that there is going to be an attempt on the life of the president, in either Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, and his skill is needed to predict where the assassin is most likely to shoot from. Then we learn, along with Swagger, that he's been double-crossed by rogue government forces, and is being blamed for the assassination. The rest of the film takes us along with Swagger and a couple of unlikely allies as they try to extricate him from the frameup and identify the real criminals.
Fuqua ("Training Day" is his best-known film) has shoehorned gunshots and explosions into almost every scene of "Shooter,", and keeps the tension ratcheted up to overload; there are no dry, dull stretches, but neither are there any thoughtful interludes either. The film starts tense, stays tense, and ends tense, and for something that runs more than two hours of screen time that's almost too much. Ultimately it just weakens any staying power the film might have had if it had just relaxed once in a while.