Now in Cinemas: Reviews for April 26, 2007

Antoine Fuqua's Shooter and The Reaping

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

A completely senseless but highly entertaining thriller, Antoine Fuqua´s Shooter greatly benefits from the irresistible lead character of an expert marksman. Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger, former military sniper coaxed by Danny Glover´s colonel to assist him in identifying and preventing a potential assassination. But after the assassination goes off and Swagger realizes he has been framed as the patsy, he takes it on the lam and attempts to find out who has double-crossed him and why. The sniper film can be played out as a tense cat-and-mouse game, as Jean-Jacques Annaud gave us in Enemy at the Gates, or as a Halo-like video game; director Fuqua opts for the latter, as Wahlberg´s Swagger racks up instant kills with well placed shots to the head when he´s not detonating homemade explosives right out of The Anarchist´s Cookbook. Michael Pena´s good guy FBI-man and a love interest played by Kate Mara are improbably and unconvincingly thrown into the mix. It´s still good fun; though any political messages land with a thud on the screen, the director is more than capable at providing violent action-movie excitement. Fast-paced and entertaining for the duration.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra, Ned Beatty, Rade Serbedzija. Written by Jonathan Lemkin, from the novel by Stephen Hunter.
IMDb link
But lazy writing gives us a number of scenes that don´t add up, either on logical or emotional scales: one character´s life hinges on him being shot in the chest (protected by a bullet-proof vest, of course) after we´ve witnessed no less than 15 headshots previously in the film; other scenes showcase Wahlberg dispensing of an innumerable number of “bad guys” – but wait, aren´t these “bad guys” simply following orders from higher-ups, pursuing who they believe to be a presidential assassin (much like the independent contractors aboard the Death Star)? Final scenes reveal Wahlberg´s character as a true bloodthirsty hero, which is all well and good, but Fuqua paints in a much-too-simplistic black and white, desperately lacking the moral complexity of questionable heroes in films like Death Wish or Dirty Harry. Shoot first, ask questions later.


The Reaping
Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea, William Ragsdale. Written by Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes, Brian Rousso.
IMDb link

It takes a biblical plague for Hilary Swank to re-discover her faith in The Reaping, but it´s going to take a lot more for audiences to enjoy this film, effectively termed “biblesploitation” by Variety´s Justin Chang. Swank stars as a college professor and miracle debunker enlisted by rural schoolteacher David Morrissey (with a godawful Southern accent) to come to his town of Haven and check out their new river of blood. After a watchable and mostly coherent first hour, which would have made a nice X-Files episode, the film spectacularly crashes and burns as it attempts to convince us of the biblical implications, spewing religious propaganda and pandering to a Christian audience. Effects are widely variable, producing a couple memorable scenes (the blood river and a locust plague) and awful others (a fiery finale and entirely unconvincing CGI cows – perhaps they wanted to make the suffering animals look as fake as possible to avoid controversy). Pic is also full of inconsistencies; my favorite: Swank refers to the blood river having a pH level “off the chart”, suggesting that the river is not blood, which would have an easily identifiable pH level. Later on, after receiving lab results, she confirms that the river is, in fact, human blood, ignoring her earlier statement; a case of incompetent writing misleading the audience. The same could be said for much of the rest of the film.

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