Violent 'Sniper' a decidedly poor shot at a buddy film


There are no women in "Sniper." It's for those of us for whom killing people with high-powered guns in the movies is not only as good as sex but maybe better -- a sacrament for our age.

This poorly written, badly directed film stars Tom Berenger as a Marine sharpshooter in the Panamanian jungle whose business it is to kill bad guys so that democracy can prosper.

He's named Tom Beckett (there is, I'm sure, a reference here to St. Thomas a Beckett of Canterbury Cathedral martyrdom fame) and his versions of the Nicene and Apostles' creeds are "one bullet, one kill" and "put a bullet through his heart and feel the rush."

Beckett's been out in the jungle long enough to have made 74 kills when he's saddled with a National Security Council stuffed shirt named Richard Miller (Billy Zane) as a partner.

Their mission is to kill a rebel general and the drug kingpin who wants to see him elected president. But poor Miller, although he's an Olympic shooting medalist, is accustomed to working behind a desk within the Washington Beltway, has never been to the jungle, does not speak Spanish and -- horror of horrors -- has never killed a man.

It's Beckett's job to initiate the lad into that mystery of macho mysteries.

There's a satisfactory body count here and -- despite Beckett's creeds -- bullets through eyes as well as hearts and a bloodied assortment that includes torturers tearing fingers off their victims.

This stuff can be great when it's done well. But director Luis Llosa is so inept that it's sometimes hard to know who's killing whom and the pace is so slow that the various kills seem scarcely worth the wait. The extent of this director's cinematic imagination is following a bullet's trajectory into its victim.

What's worse is a buddy movie in which you can't believe in the male

bonding. Miller is such an effete dandy -- he's the kind of guy you imagine working behind the box-office window at the Metropolitan Opera -- that you can't imagine why a bloodied veteran like Beckett keeps saving his life.

The script (by Michael Frost Beckner and Crash Leyland) is awful.

This is Latin America, where nuns and priests are routinely tortured and killed, and we're supposed to take seriously a line like, "Who would do such a thing?" Or how about a howler like Beckett telling Miller, after he's been sickened by his first kill, "The worse thing is not feeling the hurt any more."

And, finally, "Sniper" leaves us with an unanswered question: If Mastery Gunnery Sgt. Tom Beckett is St. Thomas a Beckett, who the hell is Henry II?



Starring Tom Berenger and Billy Zone.

Directed by Luis Llosa.

eleased by Tri-Star

Rated R.


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