‘Shooter’ misfires 

‘Pride’ uplifts.

  • WAHLBERG: Wasted.

Watch enough movies — or enough magic acts — and you start to learn the tricks, even if you don’t want to. When it comes to shoot-’em-up thrillers, the sleight of hand is even easier to see coming. The hero’s plucky friend or spouse is always fair game for a bullet in the early frames. Plucky friend-or-spouse’s death always turns the hero into a hermit/mountain man/recluse/swamp dweller who Just Wants to Be Left Alone. The villain is always personally responsible for plucky friend-or-spouse’s death, be it from plane crash, car crash, apparent suicide or tornado strike. Finally — no matter how much private or government property gets blown to smithereens, no matter how many state and federal laws get broken, no matter how many of the villain’s black-suited lackeys get capped — the final frames will find our hero happy, his name cleared and locking lips with the damsel-no-longer-in-distress, preferably during a picnic on the White House lawn.

Hope I didn’t ruin the new Mark Wahlberg movie “Shooter” for you. A tired thriller that might have been a blockbuster for Steven Segal or the Governator circa 1991, “Shooter” is a waste of Wahlberg’s talent, and definitely a waste of time, even for lovers of the genre.

Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a Marine sniper who quits the service after — you guessed it — his partner and best friend gets killed while on a mission-gone-wrong in Africa. Three years later he’s living with his dog on a snowy mountaintop. He Just Wants To Be Left Alone! But in a world where the forces of evil are everywhere, his country soon comes calling, in the form of the shadowy Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, sporting some sort of never-explained mouth appliance that gives him a slight but pronounced lisp). Johnson has a job for Swagger: they’ve received credible intelligence that one of the world’s best marksmen will attempt to assassinate the president during a speech in Philadelphia, and that the shot will come from over a mile away. Given that Swagger is one of the only men on the planet who could make a shot like that, Johnson recruits him to act as a spotter, finding the very few places where the assassin might lurk for the kill. I’m probably not ruining anything to tell you that it all turns out to be a setup. As Johnson and his men turncoat on their patsy, the real killer takes the shot, killing a controversial African archbishop. Wounded by the real killers and his face soon on every television and newspaper in the country, Swagger soon recruits a sympathetic young FBI agent (Michael Pena) and his former partner’s widow (Sarah Fenn) to his cause. Together, they go about trying to find the nameless government cabal who set him up.

Given his star turn in “The Departed,” it’s sad to see Wahlberg following the Nicholas Cage path here, squandering his talent on ab-rippling action fluff. If it weren’t for a scene-stealing cameo by Arkansas’s Levon Helm as an ancient and conspiracy-obsessed Kentucky gunsmith and an ending so full of holes that it bears enshrinement in the Swiss Cheese Screenwriting Hall of Fame, “Shooter” would be wholly forgettable. Even director Antoine Fuqua’s slo-mo explosions and gunplay failed to stir the blood. The result is a real stinker with absolutely no knockdown power.

Bad, boring, bloody and definitely off-target — even for fans of shootin’ stuff — save “Shooter” for DVD rental. Preferably after it goes to the 99-cent shelf.

— David Koon

Determined ‘Pride’

Pride, determination and resilience (PDR) is what Jim Ellis instilled in six African-American swimmers from a recreation center in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood to excel in sport and life.

“Pride” is a movie inspired by the true story of Ellis, a math teacher and swimming instructor in the early 1970s. Ellis started a swim team at the Marcus Foster Recreational Center in Nicetown, a low-income neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The movie opens in the 1960s, when Ellis (Terrence Howard), a swimmer for Cheney State University, went with his white teammates to a swim meet at a white North Carolina college. Due to the racial climate at the time, the predictable happened. The other swimmers refused to compete with him, and when the police demanded that Ellis and his team leave, it resulted in a scuffle that led to Ellis’ arrest.

Fast-forward to 1974. Ellis is still experiencing racism as he seeks a swimming instructor’s job at the Mainline Recreation Center in the suburbs. After being given short shrift by the condescending center chief Bink (Tom Arnold), Ellis goes to the job placement office and is hired by the Philadelphia Department of Recreation to do a final shutdown of the Marcus Foster Recreation Center before it’s demolished.

Once at the center, Ellis butts head with Elston (Bernie Mac), the center’s janitor, who initially views Ellis as a pawn of the city, but the men eventually become friends. Meanwhile, Ellis encounters five mouthy teen-agers, whose recreation activities are curtailed when the center’s basketball court is dismantled. Hakim (Nate Parker), Andre (Kevin Phillips), Reggie (Evan Ross), and Puddin’ Head (Brandon Fobbs) are invited inside the center by Ellis, who shows them the swimming pool and convinces them to swim for recreation.

After a showdown in which Ellis beats Andre at swimming, Ellis begins to build the group into a swim team. Andre, initially reluctant, comes around. A girl, Willie (Regine Nehy) also joins the team.

Elston and Ellis tries to convince city councilwoman Sue Davis (Kimberly Elise) to keep the center open because it would keep the youths off the street. Elston gets all the necessary paperwork together for the team to compete with other recreation centers. At this point, the movie begins to show its heart and soul.

What’s impressive throughout is how Ellis trains the team hard, instilling discipline, respect and the will to overcome any and all obstacles because they are black swimmers. Ellis also makes them realize that in life they must have “Pride, determination, and resilience ... no matter what anyone says they can or cannot do.”

Most touching is the strength and dignity shown by Ellis’ team when Bink’s Mainline squad refuses to compete with them at the center. Ellis’ team goes on to rack up diving wins, leading to an eventual showdown against the Mainliners. And what we’re shown is that any person, no matter what color or cultural background, can accomplish anything and become the best.

— Renarda Williams



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