In “Shooter,” Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (“The Departed”) fights fascism, murder and political corruption the way Arnold Schwarzenegger once did, by absolutely obliterating everything that moves. Sure, there’s some contextual stuff about greed and the exploitation of power, but mostly it’s just Wahlberg wasting people. For justice.
Adapted from the novel “Point of Impact” by military aficionado Stephen Hunter, “Shooter” tells the story of the evangelically named Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg), an elite Marine sniper who sees some heavy, horrible stuff while on secret assignment in Africa. Shortly thereafter, he retires to a remote aerie in the American wilderness, as is the wont of disillusioned fighting men in movies. (In “Firefox,” Clint Eastwood hunkered down in Alaska. Here, it’s Montana.)
By and by, Swagger is coaxed out of retirement by Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), once a decorated soldier, now a private contractor hired to forestall a rumored assassination plot against the president. Since the plot will involve a marksman shooting from a distance of up to a mile, Swagger is the ideal man to case the motorcade route and expose points of opportunity. Initially, he doesn’t want the job (“I don’t like this president. I didn’t like the last one, either …”), but dutiful Marine that he is, he goes to work.
Naturally, it’s a setup designed to make Swagger the Lee Harvey Oswald in a clandestine power play that reaches to the top of government. Wounded in the ordeal, Swagger escapes, leading to a well-executed “Fugitive”-style intrigue in which his only allies are a Marine comrade’s widow (Kate Mara from “Brokeback Mountain,” in various states of undress) and a diligent FBI agent (Michael Peña from “World Trade Center”) who doesn’t buy the party line.
It helps that Swagger is a rock-hard specimen of urban survival. When he wants to hot-wire a car, all he does is reach under the steering wheel, grunt loudly and — vroom! — free wheels. At one point, he fashions an intravenous drip out of a radiator hose.
“Shooter” was directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”), a former music video whiz who has fashioned a reputation as an action filmmaker for the thinking man. In this movie, that means discreetly placing a copy of the 9/11 Commission report on Swagger’s end table and making all the bad guys members of the military-industrial complex, including a corrupt U.S. senator (Ned Beatty) who, I kid you not, actually flaps his jowls while toasting his evil deeds.
In the end, Fuqua’s anti-war affectations feel just as slippery as his stock plot devices, including the ever-popular standby, the female in peril. “Shooter” is a diverting if clumsy piece of revenge porn. Thinking men, beware.
>> Rated R (strong graphic violence and profanity), 110 minutes. Grade: C+