“I don’t think you understand,” growls Marine sniper Mark Wahlberg to rookie Fed Michael Pena, when asked why he’s risking life and liberty to avenge himself on the sinister government forces who have framed him as a would-be presidential assassin. “These guys killed my dog!” Hell hath no fury like a pet owner bereaved, though master marksman Bob Lee Swagger really should have smelt a rat the second Colonel Danny Glover came calling at his isolated Wyoming cabin. After all, if you’re an expert sharp-shooter asked to come out of retirement to foil an imminent attempt on the Commander-In-Chief’s life, you’d have to be a real lemon not to realise you’re being set up to take the fall.
So what’s Wahlberg’s excuse? Well, he is still grieving the passing of the loyal spotter (the guy who helps detect the targets) who was cut to ribbons in the Ethiopian firefight that gives Antoine Fuqua’s actioner its explosive beginning. He’s also a patriot, a point that’s made early on by a slo-mo hero shot of Swagger striding in front of the Stars and Stripes.
His main problem though is that he’s never caught The Parallax View, Three Days Of The Condor or The Manchurian Candidate on cable – the sort of classic conspiracy thrillers Shooter would dearly love to emulate had it not already committed itself to the pyrotechnics of a boom ‘n’ bang shoot-’em-up. The scenes where Wahlberg wears an orange jumpsuit and makes references to the Abu Ghraib outrages at least try to present a contemporary equivalent to those films’ Vietnam-era pessimism, while practice sessions on watermelons imply a ballistic kinship with The Day Of The Jackal.
At its heart, though, Fuqua’s picture is a piece of escapism – the sort of yarn where Swagger can take two bullets in the shoulder and still evade the authorities by driving his car backwards into the Delaware. “I didn’t start this but I’m sure as hell going to see it through!” he grimaces before setting off to raid an FBI safehouse with only a bag of pipe bombs and some homemade napalm for company (Bob Lee obviously has seen Commando). Small wonder reluctant ally Pena spends most of the story struggling to keep up, his bumbling novice proving more of a hindrance than a help as Swagger closes in on his prey.
Aiming for the breathless momentum of 24 and the Jason Bourne movies, Fuqua has evidently helmed this adap of Stephen Hunter’s cult novel Point Of Impact with one eye sighted on a potential franchise. But for that to become a reality, future instalments will need to avoid the talky inertia of Shooter’s latter stages and redundant romances like the one between Wahlberg and his late partner’s widow (Kate Mara). Cackling henchmen are best jettisoned too if Elias Koteas’ hostage-torturing psychopath is anything to go by, as are titter-provoking one-liners like “I’m gonna burn their playhouse down!” Still, there’s enough dramatic ammo in Bob Lee Swagger to make him a lucrative weapon in Marky Mark’s arsenal – provided, of course, his first screen outing hits the target with cinemagoers.
Though riddled with action clichés, this slickly directed caper is an entertaining intro to a fascinating character that Wahlberg was clearly Bourne to play.