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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Target practice

"Pink Mist" sounds like the title of a Jackson Pollock painting, but in fact it's the fine spray of brain bits that occurs when a sniper does his job properly. And there's enough of the stuff in Shooter to satisfy all but the most dedicated armchair-snipers in the audience. Heads pop, then fizz, like soda cans that have sprung a leak. But the gore is so refined you don't feel like you're watching a horror movie, although you are, in a way. There are bullets to every part of the body, but the direct hits to the head are the movie's calling card, its money shots. They don't call it Shooter for nothing.

Spending most of the movie with a bullet hole in his chest, Mark Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger, a gunnery sergeant who, on a mission in Ethiopia, loses his spotter after the mission is prematurely aborted. In the opening sequence, we're shown just how close a shooter and spotter can be - two men functioning as one, the target over a mile away. Everything down to the curvature of the earth, even the rate at which it's spinning, has to be taken into account. And this kind of technical information, the ballistics, raises the movie above the average shoot-'em-up. NRA types should love it.

And so should Rambo fans. Bitter about the Ethiopian operation, Swagger quits the military and holes up in a mountain retreat with his dog, which fetches him beers from the refrigerator. He now sports a disgruntled-Viet-vet look: long hair, beard, flannel shirts. And he's got a libertarian streak a mile wide. But there's a Boy Scout buried in there somewhere, which is why he allows himself to be lured into an assassination plot by a quasi-military type played by Danny Glover. Swagger won't be assassinating the president. He'll be foiling an attempt by anticipating its every move.

Things don't work out that way, of course, and Shooter turns into one of those '70s political thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, with Swagger on the run and the country's entire law-enforcement community running after him. The difference is that Swagger is trained to survive and dressed to kill - a post-9/11 Rambo, with Ethiopia standing in for Iraq. Wahlberg wisely underplays the swagger, letting his character's actions speak louder than words. But it's quite clear that Swagger, though cast as the Oswald figure in this Kennedy-assassination reenactment, is no patsy.

On the contrary, he turns out to have legendary powers of planning and execution, which makes you wonder how he got all messed up in this thing in the first place. But Shooter, which aspires to be nothing more than a B-movie actioner, delivers on its promise, both spraying us with bullets and analyzing their paths.

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