As 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 N.W.A?
“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-Ã -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…
P.J. Pesce (director) / J.S. Cardone, Ross Helford (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Berenger …. Thomas J. Beckett
Byron Mann …. Quan
John Doman …. Paul Finnegan
Denis Arndt …. William Avery
Troy Winbush …. Captain Laraby
Jeanetta Arnette …. Sydney
William Duffy …. Richard Addis