s the saying goes, Tom Berenger does his best
work in military fatigues. This was the case with the original "Sniper",
which was enough of a modest hit that it spawned a franchise. "Sniper
2", coming many years after the original, was good enough from a
commercial standpoint to warrant a third, 2004's "Sniper 3".
Berenger returns as Marine sniper Thomas J. Beckett, a man whose life is
tied into his persona as a Marine killer. As one character in the movie
points out, if he's not putting his life in danger or taking someone else's,
Beckett's life has no meaning.
Still a Marine after all these
years (the explanation to which can be found in the previous installment,
where Beckett wrangled a guarantee of permanent employment with the Marine
Corp.), Beckett is beginning to question his lot in life. The presence of
Sydney (Jeanetta Arnette), a war widow, further nudges the gruff Marine on
the road toward life without his beloved Corp. But before Beckett can face
the future, he has to confront his past -- namely going back to Vietnam at
the behest of the NSA to assassinate a drug kingpin who just happens to be
Beckett's former 'Nam comrade, a man thought dead.
Back at his old stomping grounds, Beckett shakes off
the memories of the war just long enough to get ready for the kill. He's
aided by Quan (Byron Mann, last seen playing second fiddle to Steven
Seagal in "Belly
of the Beast"), a Ho Chi Minh City Detective working on the side
for the NSA. Sent to kill one Paul Finnegan (John Doman), the American
with secrets that can embarrass the NSA's high brass, Beckett isn't quite
sure if he can do it. And sure enough, Beckett misses, setting up a final
confrontation between two former buddies, as well as a past that just
won't let either one of them go.
As a finale to the "Sniper" franchise (and
I'm assuming this is the final installment, seeing as how actor Tom
Berenger is looking every bit his age in this one), "Sniper 3"
is a somewhat fitting end. At least, it's a good enough end for someone
like Beckett. It gives Beckett one last mission by taking him back to
where it all started, providing the character with the closure he needs to
finally let go of the Corp and get on with the rest of his life. And yet,
the whole subplot about Finnegan and the NSA's brass feels tacked on, one
of those fallback plots that the Plot-O-Matic dishes out regularly to
"B" action movies.
The funny thing is that sending Beckett back to
Vietnam to kill a drug lord that had no ties to Beckett would have been a
better idea. Who needs such a throwaway plot? Or generic scenes of generic
NSA agents sitting in generic dark smoky rooms discussing their generic
conspiracy? It's all so generic. Why not just use the Vietnam
setting as the trigger for Beckett to take stock of his life and where
he's been? Even the script seems bored by Beckett's relation to Finnegan,
as Finnegan is almost a non-entity from beginning to end. In total, the
character must have had about 10 minutes of total screentime.
In any case, you should only bother with "Sniper
3" if you're a fan of the franchise. The script wisely never shies
away from pointing out just how old and tired Beckett is. In almost every
scene, we can see that this is an old man who has outlived his chosen
profession, and the fact that he can't seem to move on is sadder than
anything else. It's when the film focuses on Beckett as he struggles with
himself that the film hits its strides, owing mainly to Berenger's acting.
That gritty face and those soulful eyes sell the role of Beckett more than
any dialogue ever can. It's no surprise, then, that without Beckett,
"Sniper" is just another throwaway "B" action movie.
If Beckett is old and forgotten, Byron Mann is new
and fresh. It's a mystery why Mann hasn't gotten more work, because the
actor (who is, in real life, a lawyer!) is affable enough to engender
bigger and better roles beyond these Asian Sidekick characters. Mann's
Quan has some amusing exchanges with the grumpy Beckett, and for a moment
I expected the film to throw a sudden plot revelation at us concerning
Quan's familial ties. Perhaps I was thinking how fitting it would be if it
turned out Quan was Beckett's son from 30 years ago, as it would make
Beckett's return to Vietnam, and his eventual retirement from the sniping
profession, all the more satisfying.
As a movie about a sniper who, well, snipes,
"Sniper 3" is strangely missing the whole sniping angle.
Beckett's attempted assassination of Finnegan is really the film's only
sniping segment, with the rest of the movie playing out as more of a
straight action film. The film's run-and-gun quotient is mostly filled by
the much younger Mann, who actually looks more like a New York cop than a
Vietnamese Detective. He even dresses like one. And where exactly did a
Vietnamese Detective in Ho Chi Minh City nabbed himself a CD copy of
"Sniper 3" is probably the best you can
hope for in a franchise that didn't seem like it could possibly sustain a
sequel, much less two. If this is indeed the end for the series, those who
have followed Beckett's career since his days in the Panamanian jungle
will be somewhat satisfied with how Beckett ends his career vis-à-vis the
Marine Corp. As mentioned, one does wish for a better denouement, but I
suppose this will just have to do.
However, should the Powers That Be decide to bring
Beckett back for a fourth installment, this time in civilian garb, I
wouldn't be entirely against it...