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Movies about snipers fascinates me, especially since I could never, ever in multiple lifetimes mold myself into one of them. Fact is, I’m just not that dedicated. They are the consummate professional — killer elites that pride themselves on patience, precision, and outerworldly skills. Plus, they’re the epitome of the lone wolf hero, that favorite of cinematic badasses — hiding out in the jungles by themselves (or with a spotter, if you really want to be accurate about it) for days, waiting for the perfect opportunity to take the shot and send the bad guy to Boot Hill. Yeah, they’re cool, and movies about them tend to be pretty cool, too, even if they’re complete rubbish like Mark Wahlberg’s “Shooter”. Cripes, that one was horrid.
The best in the genre has to be the “Sniper” franchise, which started in 1993 with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane, with Berenger playing veteran Marine sniper Thomas Beckett. In the first film, Beckett was tasked with showing the ropes to his young replacement, played by Zane. Berenger returned for the direct-to-DVD part two, then once again in part three. The latest installment in the series finds the Beckett name bequeathed to young Brandon Beckett, the grown son of Berenger’s character, who has followed in dad’s footsteps into the way of the camo. Only he’s not a sniper. At least, not yet. Billy Zane reprises his 1993 role as Richard Miller, who arrives just in time to teach the young lad the ways of the sniper in order to get him ready to duel it out with a sniper assassin that had mowed down Beckett’s U.N. peacekeeping unit, an ambush that left a wounded Beckett the sole survivor.
At first, our hero spurns Miller’s offer of impromptu sniper training, and shows more than a little disdain for this particular deadly craft. A little simmering father-son issues, perhaps? Which makes me wonder if Miller was supposed to be the elder Beckett, but after Berenger turned down an offer to return, they had to tweak the script to turn the character into Miller instead. This would certainly make more sense, especially since Miller drops everything in order to fly over to the Congo to help out Beckett Jr. after hearing news of his ambush. It makes sense for Beckett Sr. to take a real interest in keeping the buckaroo alive, but not so much for Miller, despite his reasonings. But hey, I’m not complaining, especially since Zane is surprisingly amusing in the role, and his spiel to some sniper trainees is particularly excellent.
Chad Michael Collins (not to be confused with Chad Michael Murray of “One Tree Hill” infamy) cuts a nice swath as our taciturn, capable hero. The fact that he looks like a younger version of Tom Berenger, Marine haircut and all, certainly doesn’t hurt. Annabel Wright provides the obligatory love interest, a lovely British lass who, like Beckett Jr., finds the U.N. unit run by the douchey Col. Hans Jaeger (Richard Sammel) to be less than capable or, when needed, very helpful. Beckett Jr. and Wright’s Lieutenant Ellen have a way-too-quick romance that essentially includes him hitting on her one day, seeing each other again days later, then jumping into the sack after he grills her for information. I guess you can say she later grilled him back, but then that would just be uncool and way ungentleman-ly, so forget I ever said it.
“Reloaded” is directed by Claudio Fah, who previously helmed 2003’s “Coronado” and the direct-to-DVD sequel “Hollow Man II”. Both were decent entries, and like “Reloaded”, will never be mistaken for greatness. Fah certainly seems to enjoy the African scenery, and although he handles the plentiful action well enough, the gunplay doesn’t really stand out. There is also something patently absurd about watching characters armed with bolt-action rifles engaging in wild firefights with AK-47 wielding soldiers spraying 100s of rounds a second. I get it, the bolt-action rifles are more accurate — from a distance. And for those interested, there are also some cursory attempts at social commentary on the rampant African civil wars and what roles outsiders play in them. Yawn. More sniper duels, please.
Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of places the “Sniper” series could have gone after taking Beckett to Vietnam in part three, but I would have still liked to see more of the ace sniper in action. Failing that, making the franchise younger was probably a no-brainer decision for the studio, hence Beckett Jr. “Reloaded” certainly leaves plenty of room for subsequent sequels, with Baby Beckett (as he’s called at one point in the movie) coming full circle and embracing his father’s legacy as a Marine sniper. Hopefully Billy Zane will still be around too because he’s pretty damn funny. And while they’re at it, maybe they can bring Anabel Wright back, too. She’s purty.
“Sniper: Reloaded” shoots onto DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures on April 26, 2011.
Claudio Fah (director) / Ross Helford, John Fasano (screenplay)
CAST: Billy Zane … Richard Miller
Richard Sammel … Col. Hans Jaeger
Chad Michael Collins … Sgt Brandon Beckett
Patrick Lyster … Martin Chandler
Annabel Wright … Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz
Conrad Kemp … Dustin Nelson
Kayla Privett … Kelli Van Brunt