Review: 'Shooter' fun and exciting 

"Shooter" is a throwback to hyper-violent revenge fantasies like "Rambo" and "Commando," in which an indestructible hero takes on a small army and walks away unscathed. Here, that hero is Bobby Lee Swagger, played, as the name obviously suggests, with supreme self-assurance by Mark Wahlberg, whose rugged, blue-collar charisma and muscular frame make him an ideal candidate to fill the shoes once worn by Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

As Swagger, an expert marksman with a keen eye and a hunger for payback, he shoots first and rarely asks questions, leaving a trail of bullet-riddled corpses in his wake — which, of course, is the point. "Shooter" is a frenetic barrage of explosions, car crashes and brawls, tenuously strung together by a story that’s more than a little ridiculous. It’s a mindless exercise, but an effective one: Wahlberg is a natural fit for this material, and he has plenty of fun with his role as a staunch patriot betrayed by his government.

The plot is negligible, except as a means of separating Swagger from his enemies, who number in the hundreds. Framed by a rogue operative (Danny Glover) for the attempted assassination of the president, he improbably eludes a nationwide manhunt just long enough to win the confidence of a young FBI agent (Michael Peña) who begins to suspect a conspiracy. (He also seeks out his ex-partner’s fiancée, a wide-eyed Southern belle played by Kate Mara, for very different reasons.) Before long, Swagger finds himself at odds with no less than a U.S. senator (Ned Beatty) whose hobbies include mass murder and sloppy cover-ups.

Swagger gets his man — and a few dozen others, whose fiery ends are frequently captured in dramatic slow-mo, another technique reminiscent of the days when Rambo ruled the forest. The similarities don’t end there. Like Stallone’s "First Blood," "Shooter" wears its distrust of the government like a badge of pride, with director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") casually playing on anti-Bush paranoia for dramatic effect, even if he never names the president. At the end of the day, "Shooter" isn’t smart enough to make a serious political statement, but as a lurid slice of stylized violence, it makes for one thrilling ride.

Shooter ***

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Ned Beatty

Written by Jonathan Lemkin, Stephen Hunter

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Rated R

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

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