Sony // 2002 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 18th, 2003
When the going gets tough, the tough call Beckett...who then calls Godot.
It's been a few years since Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett was asked by his government to kill for money. But when Bosnia goes bonkers with cultural cleansing carnage, Uncle Sammytown has no choice but to recall this elite executioner back into sharpshooter service. This time, however, there's a catch, or a hitch, or a double-crossing backstabbing need to know subplot involving a badass death row inmate, a dissident writer, and a mousy revolutionary. Halfway through the narrative, Beckett bags his bad guy, stuff explodes, and supposedly talented actors spend inordinate amounts of screen time sweating, quietly eyeing objects through high powered rifle scopes. Eventually many more guns are fired, some people die, an ambush in a bombed out village fails to pay off and we are left half wondering what Beckett's next assignment will be? Hopefully, it will involve taking out the brain trust that inflicted Sniper 2 on an unsuspecting world. Pray "Master Gun" gets the green light soon, before someone offers a similar jade jumpstart to Sniper 3.
Sniper 2 wants so hard to be good. It wants to offer intense action and tripwire suspense as it moves its characters through an intricate plot revolving around ethnic atrocities, war crimes, revolution, political assassinations and government cover-ups. And for a while, it does deliver in a kind of derivative direct to video cruise control manner of movie making. Stock characters amble through a rote set of circumstances, meeting and beating the same old villains, all painted in a new, more PC set of clothing and still everything ends up with guns firing and things blowing up. Sounds like a decent night at the macho motion pictures, right? Well, that's the problem with Sniper 2. For all its pyrotechnical temptations and Eurotrashy locales, it just can't seem to connect. Perhaps it's because the mission our heroes go on is pointless and ill explained. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the entire double-cross surprise is pointless and ill explained. Or possibly it's the fault of the characters in the film, all of which appear pointless and ill explained. Whatever it is, vehicles detonate, round after round of ammunition spouts across the screen in over-cranked Ridley Scott beige and moss green, and characters sit and stare at stuff. But the most telling reason why this movie fails is in the way it handles the actual procedural aspects of sniping. It is a safe bet to assume that a professional hit man or trained military killer would never use his targeting device as a means of cinemascopic tracking or image framing. More times than one cares to count, however, the filmmakers employ the wandering cross-haired gobo effect to follow the action or make a dramatic composition choice. And while interesting in a kind of pedestrian POV fashion, the only shooter able to accurately make his mark while waving his rifle around like a retard is Lee Harvey Oswald (if you believe the Warren Commission).
But it's not just that Sniper 2 has its manner of murdering misguided. It also wastes some decent talent in the name of nothingness. Bookeem Woodbine has a wonderful intensity that matches the terrifying nature of his primal features. He deserves better. The rest of the cast of relative unknowns do a fine job of playing rough accented refugees. But then there's Tom Berenger. Alas, looking at his cracked granite mug in this movie makes one wonder just what in the stoned Oliver Oscar nomination happened to this man and his career? In Sniper 2 he looks like he had his smile lines sandblasted and his nose and chin re-stuccoed. This was and could still be (one imagines) an actor with a rare gift: he portrays menace with a great undercurrent of charm and animal magnetism. And yet here he is, tired and worn, reduced to playing second fiddle to a rifle range in this unnecessary sequel to a film most people had long forgotten even existed. For every positive credit to his name (Someone to Watch Over Me, Major League) there is a Substitute 4 or I Need a Paycheck 3: The Landlord's Return to foul his filmography. While it's never smart to turn your back on a payday (gotta make those collagen injection payments somehow), the rewards reaped by appearing in Sniper 2 seem minimal at best as nothing special happens here. For a movie about hired killers, there is very little of the stalk and slaughter. We get too many scenes lifted from the TV show Combat (which basically consist of convoys being ambushed) followed by more of supposedly talented actors playing possum with a plastic eyepiece glued to their skull. About the only bit of intrigue generated throughout this dull Day of the Jerkyll is whether there is light at the end of the professional tunnel for all participants involved.
Columbia TriStar does a fine job with the sound and picture for Sniper 2. Presented in both an anamorphic widescreen image at 1.85:1 or a more "freak friendly" full screen transfer, the print is pristine, with nice depth of color and detail. Sonically, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is effective, providing a nice effect in the battle scenes. But then that's it. Aside from a few trailers, we get no other bonus content. Still, you can't really fault the lady with the torch on this one. Pray tell, what other added material would one desire? A lame commentary making excuses for this cinematic hemorrhoid? A behind the scenes featurette complete with talking head sound bits with contractually bound stars discussing the "merits" of this dung? An in-depth documentary about true paid assassins, drifting the Earth in pursuit of their target? (Wait...that might be pretty good.) Unfortunately, none of that could really save Sniper 2 from being what it is...a marketing opportunity: a chance to trade on a well-rented previous title to hopefully pad a few bank accounts via instant name recognition. About the only way this film could possibly work, and also live up to its title, is if it focused on the provocative farmers who raise those imaginary animals sought by teens in those late evening trips down and around lovers' lane. A movie about the trials and tribulations of these hard working "snipers" would be, to use the vernacular, "a fur piece" better than the ballistic BS offered here. Sniper 2 is all promise and no premise. Spending 91 minutes with this turgid turkey will replicate the feeling of being in a mercenary's crosshairs. This is one film that will definitely make you feel "under the gun...".to finish it.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R