Don’t ask me why this is, but there are certain empty spectacles — mindless action flicks with enough kinetic energy and bad-assity — that I like in spite of their stupidity. It doesn’t happen often for me; 300 didn’t do shit for me, but a movie like last year’s Crank had enough adrenaline running through it that I didn’t give a damn that it didn’t make a lick of sense, that there wasn’t a single two-dimensional character, or that it was about as deep as an Alanis Morissette lyric. Who cares? Jason Statham blew some bad people away and got busy with Amy Smart up against a newspaper stall in the middle of a crowded Chinatown sidewalk. That, folks, is why we go to the movies.
Likewise, Shooter works in much the same way that “24” does. I think we can all concede that “24,” in actuality, is one of the dumbest shows on television. It requires huge leaps in logic, nothing anybody does ever makes any goddamn sense, and — even after six freakin’ seasons — not a single character has evolved into an actual human being. It’s just a lot of yelling, frantic gunplay, and meaningless technical jargon (“Somebody get me the schematics before I rip this guys intestines out of his nose.”) But, really, the things that are so wrong about “24” are also what really makes it work. It doesn’t try to convince you of its logic. Instead of presenting a tiny plot hole and then attempting to sweep it under the refrigerator without anyone noticing, Jack Bauer seems to say, “You didn’t like that plot hole? Huh? What’s that asshole? Well, fuck you: Here’s an even bigger one. I’d like to see you jump over that motherfucker.” And we do, always landing somewhere at the bottom of a ravine of mindlessness, playing around in our own muck, yelling with ecstasy from down below with our mangled limbs and broken bones. At a certain point, our disbelief is so suspended and bent out of shape that the sinewy sensation one gets from a Hazzard-type leap of logic actually starts to feel kind of good.
Of course, six weeks worth of episodes have piled up and collected techno-dust on my TiVo since watching “The State Within,” and realizing that it’s possible to make a show like “24” both entertaining and logical, which saps all the joy out of mindless experiences.” Likewise, I wouldn’t watch Shooter if you’ve seen any of the Bourne films lately, but you know what: Sometimes, it’s OK to leave the theory of relativity at home.
And, actually, the Bourne films are an appropriate reference point here, because Shooter is sort of his domestic, backwoods cousin who has huffed enough paint to do serious damage to some brain cells. But no matter: The hero here goes by the name of Bobby Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), and if that ain’t a killer action-hero moniker, then I don’t know what the hell is.
Swagger is the brooding quiet type, the sort of fella who keeps his damn mouth shut and shoots bad people with little panache, like a good action hero should. In Shooter, he’s been trained to the hilt by the U.S. military, so much so that he can shoot a silver dollar from 1,000 yards away and deliver one of those viciously lethal karate chops to the neck with one suitably impressive motion.
When the film opens, Swagger is sharp-shooting some third-world bandits in furtherance of some unidentified military interest, only he and his partner aren’t really suppose to be in this particular country. So, when his partner gets offed by the mean impoverished people, the military basically washes their hands of Swagger. Once he escapes, he quits and heads up into the mountains of Montana, where he grows a beard and drinks beer with his dog.
A few years later, however, some fellas from the government appeal to his patriotic sensibilities and convince him to help them stop an assassination of the President, basically by plotting that very assassination so that they can see how it might work. Much to Swagger’s chagrin, however, they use his methods to assassinate the archbishop of an African country and then frame Swagger for the murder. Expectantly, shit gets out of hand real quick; in the mayhem, Swagger gets shot a few times and skips Dodge before the feds catch up to him.
He heads to Kentucky where, Sarah, the widow of his dead partner lives. Sarah is played by Kate Mara and … er … eh … Kate Mara is a mighty handsome woman. Granted, she’s got one of the absolute worst Southern accents I’ve ever heard (she also trumped it out for We! Are! Marshall! last year), but it works here to help keep our expectations in check, i.e., remind us that it’s not an involved conspiracy thriller, but a action flick with trace amounts of conspiracy thrillerness in it. She also does this by wearing see-through shirts and shooting people with only her bra on. I picked up on that. It’s part of my job.
Meanwhile, a rookie FBI Agent, Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) starts to question the assassination of the Archbishop and figures some things out with the help of Alourdes Galindo (Rhona Mitra), the coolly named higher-up at the agency who says things robotically to give her an air of seriousness. And once Sarah mends Swagger’s wounds, Nick eventually joins forces with him to take down the bad guys. And I’d tell you who the bad guys are, but there are really too many and it’s not that important anyhow. But I’ll give you a hint about the villainous kingpin: He’ll make you squeal like a pig.
And, of course, no light conspiracy thriller would work without the assistance of a conspiracy gun-nut who offers wise counsel, and it’s hard to imagine finding a better guy than Levon Helm to play the role. I mean, c’mon: Who doesn’t love to see one of the greatest drummers of all time cripple-creek-kook it up in a scene-stealing role? Besides, he has the only authentic Southern accent in the film.
The screenplay — written by Jonathan Lemkin and adapted from Stephen Hunter’s probably much smarter and more detailed novel Point of Impact — has a lot of political rhetoric about a thuggish administration, missing WMDs, and conspiracy cover-ups, but it’s mostly empty bluster - table dressing for a film that, in a throwback to ’80s action flicks, offers up a staggering body count and lots of neat explosions. It’s hard to believe now that Reagan-era politicians used to decry the senseless violence in film back then. Honestly, folks, I’d really much rather see 100 faceless dudes die in a rain of gunfire than to see one person die in a prolonged up-close-and personal torture scene. And Shooter limits the sweet gunshots in to head and neck to people you want to see die (except for those poor impoverished third-world bandits, of course).
But best of all, Mark Wahlberg does the grizzled, serious-minded action hero as well as Matt Damon did the sober, clean-cut Jason Bourne. Wahlberg is unbelievably hit-and-miss for me, but he pulls off the “thinking-man’s” political-minded Rambo much better than I’d imagined. And, thankfully, Antoine Fuqua brings the same intensity he brought to Training Day here, and he knows how to set up a beautifully spare, forceful action sequence: Just pull the trigger and watch the anonymous guy’s head explode. What more do you really need?
But, before I sign off, let me just say this: I’ve seen a huge sampling (350 comments and counting) from your iPods this week, and I am suitably impressed with all of your musical tastes — it’s smart, and eclectic, and certainly cool. But you know what? There’s one band in particular that I didn’t see enough of (only one listing so far). An obscure outfit from Sydney, Australia that only knows three chords or so, but plays the hell out of them. I can’t think of the name off the top of my head. What is it? Oh yeah: AC/DC. And they will rock your face off. And you know, every once in a while, it’s nice to put down your Belle and Sebastian and your Modest Mouse and your Elvis Costello, put on your fuck-me boots, go out and get shitfaced, and stick a quarter in the jukebox and crank up “You Shook Me All Night Long.” (Don’t worry, every jukebox in America has it — it’s right before Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing.”) Or, you can throw on a cap and a hoodie and spend a Saturday afternoon at the matinee watching Shooter. The experience isn’t all that different.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.The Earth was Quaking / My Mind Was Aching
Film | March 24, 2007 | Comments ()