How you’d rate this action flick about a former army sniper (Wahlberg) who’s framed for an assassination depends on which film you’re talking about. If you’re referring to the post--Patriot Act paranoia thriller that makes up Shooter’s first hour, directed in the corner-hugging style that pegs Antoine Fuqua as the heir to John “Die Hard” McTiernan, you’d probably qualify it as above average. Granted, why someone as justifiably suspicious as Wahlberg’s libertarian would still go with the shady suits who set him up is never convincingly explained. (“They pushed the right buttons,” he says. Um, okay.) Whatever: The stage is set for some primo cat-and-mouse games between the fugitive hero, shadow-cabinet spooks and an FBI rookie (Pea) who smells a stinky rat.
Then comes Shooter’s second half, in which a tightly wound conspiracy potboiler suddenly pumps itself up into a blowed-up-real-good Bruckheimer spectacle. Wahlberg breaks out the Rambo stealth tactics, the film’s healthy mistrust of government becomes triathletic, and the whole shebang devolves into a populist Death Wish--fulfillment for militia types. Ballistic fetishists and anticorporate activists will find common ground in each violent act against political fat cats, but the rest of us are left to wallow in the bloodlust and wonder who switched the reels. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear