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Wahlberg: One Cool Character in 'Shooter'

Shooter is Hollywood's latest action thriller, one of those elevated B-pictures that runs type across the bottom of the screen to tell you what city you're in.

The film has its regrettable moments, including a torture scene. But it also has the kind of character the movies love: the heroic loner forced to do battle for justice against phenomenal odds.

Bob Lee Swagger — yes, that is really his name — is just such a man. He's a former Marine who is the kind of dead shot who can take the rotation of the Earth into consideration and hit a target a mile away. He never even thinks of missing, and playing him may do for Mark Wahlberg what playing Jason Bourne did for Matt Damon.

The key to Wahlberg's performance is that he never swaggers. Instead, he projects a classic wary stoicism. Like few other actors — Steve McQueen is the classic example — Wahlberg projects a casual sense of danger. He doesn't come off as an actor playing someone outside the law but as the real thing.

Swagger is traced to his mountain lair by a shadowy retired colonel who works for one of those nameless, supersecret, quasi-governmental agencies. Calling on Swagger's unquenchable patriotism, he asks the shooter for some help.

What the colonel really wants, however, is to use Swagger as the convenient fall guy for an upcoming assassination.

Convenient, my foot. Swagger, not surprisingly, turns out to be not exactly patsy material.

With his bottomless skill set, he knows how to keep himself alive and escape from any and all traps.

When he vows, "I'll burn their playhouse down," no one asks if he's just being metaphorical.

It's not its crisp action sequences that make Shooter involving, it's Wahlberg's performance. It's the film's most old-fashioned element, and its best.

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Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.