04 September 2007

With a name like Swagger...

Sometimes, Taco Bell just does it for you. Maybe you've only got a few bucks on you, or maybe you're drunk -- which is the preferred state for eating a double decker taco -- but sometimes you don't want quality. Not even McDonald's-level quality. You just want a double decker taco.

Shooter is a double decker taco. It's directed by Antoine Fuqua, whose magnificent Training Day is a whopper of a dirty cop thriller (pun intended, thank you). But Shooter, on the other hand, is dull and workman-like. It's not bad, per se, but you've got to be in a specfic mood to really enjoy something as exceedingly mediocre as this. Drunk, for example. Or up late, eyes buzzing with caffeine while channel-surfing madly through infomercials hoping for something decent at 2 am that isn't Law & Order reruns on TNT. You see what I'm getting at here.

One of Mark Wahlberg's criteria for picking out scripts must be really spot-on character names. There exists no better porn star name than Dirk Diggler, and I really can't come up with a better moniker for a sharpshooter than Bob Lee Swagger. Of course, while I like Wahlberg, the last thing I'd say about him is that he oozes charisma. So, in the misnomer department, Swagger is up there with Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. But it's still a cool name. So cool, it should be written with an exclamation point -- Swagger!

Swagger! is depicted as an earnest, loyal, simple man. During an operation, he and his spotter are left behind. Since the spotter just showed a picture of his girl mere moments before, War Movie Doctrine dictates that he tragically die, and so it goes. Swagger! escapes and moves to the mountains to become a sharp-shooting yokel, and there he stays until Danny Glover (whose character name is so bland I cannot recall it) arrives with a job: Figure out how to assassinate the President and, in doing so, track a rogue assassin plotting to do so. Swagger! is set up but escapes, embarrassing a young FBI Agent (Michael Pena) who begins to suspect Swagger! is just a fall guy.

Fuqua is a confident director who's shown real flair in the past, but he doesn't do much to elevate Shooter above it's generic trappings. The writing is strangely concerned with making Swagger! smart and resourceful, which is Screenwriting 101 for creating character, but the end result is a thriller in which there are few thrills since the bad guys can't match wits with a good-hearted killing machine like him. Swagger's got this. I mean, his name's Bob Lee Swagger!

The film is a throwback to the straight-arrow action films of the 1980s. In fact, substitute the story's post-9/11 government paranoia with communists and you'd have Red Dawn, right down to the sharp-shooting yokels camping in the woods. At the end of the day, I think I prefer Red Dawn's shameless 80s sincerity. That movie at least knew in its heart that the villains didn't really matter, it was the struggle of teenaged kids banding together to survive World War III. Shooter loses it's steam at the most crucial of points, the very end, when the story suddenly shifts from Swagger clearing his good name to the filmmakers wagging their fingers at morally-corrupt capitalist bureaucrats. By the time you realize what they've done for money (no, not for money! Evil!), you'll probably want the credits to roll. There's actually a sequence where Swagger lets the bad guys go so they can be properly shamed in a government hearing. Which they don't, but hey, we're talking about Bob Lee Swagger! Suffice to say, this is the least satisfying comeuppance a villain has ever had.

Yet, I cannot condemn the flick as bad. It's decent. It moves quickly. The action is nifty. Not spectacular, or terribly exciting, but nifty. Sure, Michael Pena becoming Swagger's new spotter is one big ball of cheese, as is the quasi-romance that blooms when Swagger seeks refuge with his old spotter's heartbroken girl. But every time Wahlberg, I mean Swagger!, offs a baddie with his sharp-shooting skills, it's oddly satisfying. Double decker with mild sauce satisfying. And with just as much guilt on my part.

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