My theory is that the latest Wesley Snipes direct-to-video actioner “The Marksman” was originally called “The Painter” when it was first conceived as a script. I say “probably” because I have no proof of this, but it seems likely considering the film’s premise — about a military “painter”, a commando that goes into enemy territory to “light up”, that is, makes a target “readable” by radar, for precision aerial bombing. It’s actually pretty easy to understand why “The Painter” was changed to “The Marksman”. Whereas “The Painter” would seem to indicate a film about, you know, a painter, “The Marksman” conjures up images of commando and stuff blowing up real good. Further evidence? The script mentions the word “the painter” about 50 million times, but from my count, not a single mention of “the marksman”.
In any case, Snipes returns for another B-action movie go-around, this time as a mysterious military superagent who returns to action after mistakenly painting the wrong target and killing some civilians in Bosnia during, one presumes, the late unpleasantness of the mid-90s. In the present, Snipes must parachute into rebel-controlled Chechnya when a runaway general takes over a nuclear plant in order to make a nuke. Making the Americans even more skittish is that the crazed general has buddies in pesky North Korea. So off into Chechnya Snipes and a team of Army Rangers go, tasked with painting the seized nuclear planet’s weak spot for targeting and rescuing some dumb American scientists taken hostage.
Curiously, the presence of star Wesley Snipes really doesn’t do all that much for “The Marskman” except the obvious — his face on the poster, his name on the marquee, etc. Snipes doesn’t get to do a whole lot of his brand of mayhem — no swords in sight and for the most part no real martial arts combat. Of course it’s not helped that the film is pedestrian and by-the-numbers, and after the initial training exercise in the beginning when Snipes takes on the Army Rangers guys, the film is almost devoid of action for the next 50 minutes or so. And Yes, I am dismissing a completely gratuitous scene where a tank chases an unnamed Russian soldier around a bombed out town for about 5 minutes, as well as some random, inconsequential killings.
Curiously, there is about a 10-minute sequence inside a decrepit hospital near the nuclear plant that brings to mind scenes from a horror movie. The hospital has been abandoned long ago, and in its current state, you could imagine angry Russian spirits of botched operations, surgeries, and other assortments of angry ghosts wandering about, waiting to pick off anyone who strays into their dank, filthy hallways, sterile rooms, and labyrinth-like basement catacombs. Of course this isn’t a horror movie, so there are no ghosts, just shootouts with faceless Russian rebels. But had the filmmakers been so inclined, who knows what kind of ghoulish satisfaction one could have manufactured with Army Rangers taking on ghosts inside an old hospital.
But I digress.
Aside from Snipes, who can do these military commando movies in his sleep (which seems to be how he’s approaching “The Marksman”, natch), the background cast are non-entities. The Army Rangers in particular are horribly miscast; there’s a “good ol boy” character that annoys, their Captain is a terribly stiff and bad actor, and the rest of these “best of the best” Rangers look like they should still be in High School. Also, it’s amusing to think that real Army Rangers would go into battle armed with Uzis, one of the most unreliable machine pistols ever put into service. On the plus side, the always amiable Tim Abell (“Special Forces”), who has made a career out of playing commandos in B-action movies, has a blink and you’ll miss cameo as a fighter pilot. No doubt Abell was doing someone a favor by appearing.
Technically, “The Marskman” is slick and has the look of a moderately budgeted production. Most likely getting Snipes on board probably meant an extra million or two for the production budget, which couldn’t have been that high considering the film’s streamline script. Director Marcus Adams wraps his original footage around stock military ones (“Top Gun”, anyone?) well enough to convince, but it’s too bad the script bogs itself down for much of its first half, seemingly content to just meander about under the mistaken belief people who watches Wesley Snipes action films care about gradual plot exposition and slowly building conspiracy plot twists. It’s not until the 50-minute mark that someone finally gets shot and something blows up again, but by then only the most diehard of Wesley Snipes fans will still be around to see it.
It goes without saying that Wesley Snipes has done much, much better work. As it currently stands, the “Blade” films might have been Snipes at his highest, with “The Marksman” and a string of foreign-set direct-to-video actioners being his lowest. In many ways, it’s baffling what’s become of Snipes’ career. I don’t think anyone ever considered him a B-action movie star until, well, he started doing B-action movies. How exactly do you go from “Blade: Trinity” to “7 Seconds” and “The Marskman” in the same year? It’s mind-boggling, to say the least.
Marcus Adams (director) / Travis Spangler, Tyler Spangler (screenplay)
CAST: Tim Abell …. Lt. Carter
Warren Derosa …. Orrin
Wesley Snipes …. Painter
Serge Soric …. Andrey Flintov