Deep in the Congo: Marine... Peace Keeper... Killer.
I was a big fan of the first Sniper film when I was younger. A kid at school obsessed with military weapons leant me a copy on VHS and told me it was a great movie. He was right. Different to the usual action movie I was used to, Sniper was more about stealth and outwitting your enemy. A thinking mans action movie with Tom Berenger as the Sniper and Billy Zane as his protege. Berenger has starred in two direct-to-DVD sequels that I have sitting on the shelf but have not gotten around to watching yet but this is the first time Zane has returned to the franchise. Sniper: Reloaded is the fourth in the series but is really something of a reboot (hence the "Reloaded" monicker).
Sniper: Reloaded stars Chad Michael Collins as Sgt Brandon Beckett, the son of Berenger's character Thomas Beckett, a fact reaffirmed early on when a photo of Thomas is displayed pinned to his son's paperwork (can we even call that a cameo?). The movie is told as after-the-fact events, detailed by Beckett during a pre-court marshall breakdown with his superior officers wanting to know what happened in the Congo. He explains, that when on a routine peace-keeping mission with his team for the UN, new orders are given to locate, retrieve and protect a Jean Van Brunt (Rob Fruithof), a local Congo resident of European descent of interest to the UN. Upon retrieving Van Brunt, he is shot at by a sniper and killed, the team of soldiers firing back and trying to find cover. One by one Beckett's team is killed by the sniper, so Becket makes a run for it. He is shot and falls into a pit, unconscious, and presumed dead by the sniper assassin.
When Beckett awakes he is having his wounds attended to by a local hunter, Martin Chandler (Patrick Lyster), who rescued him. The two go back to the house of Van Brunt looking for a reason as to why he was a target and discover his teenage daughter, armed and minding the fort. Beckett decides to take her to the safety of the UN installation but first they detour back to Chandler's camp. It's been overrun by milita stealing the orphan children he was safeguarding and a firefight ensues. The rebels escape with the children... and this is when Richard Miller (Billy Zane) is informed that Beckett (son of Beckett) needs some assistance and flies over to the Congo.
Zane doesn't show up until the 38 minute mark - I was beginning to get worried we were looking at a bait-and-switch here, but his involvement worked well in the story and there was no real need for him to show up earlier, so I wont hold that against the producers. He brings the laughs in this with his dry humour and antics. He is so straight-forward and efficient that it becomes funny at times as he quickly moves from one item of business to another. In his first scene training junior snipers on the agony of long missions, he is asked 'What do you do if you need to pee?' and he simply replies "Go in your pants. I love it so much I'm going in my pants right now." Zane also has a great Dolph Lundgren from the opening scene of The Expendables moment ("Too low") in the final minutes of Sniper: Reloaded; let's just say he shoots a little too close to somebody with a high powered rifle and we get to see the aftermath of it.
There is some great location work on display here, as you would expect being filmed in Africa. Lot's of opportunities to take National Geographic style footage of giraffes, rhinoceros and elephants in the wild. I was a little disturbed at the hunter saying how beautiful Africa and the animals are, knowing full well he probably wants to mount a lion head on his wall. There's also some interesting camera work during the fire-fights; a camera is mounted onto the rifle so that you can see the soldier's face as he shoots at enemies. There's a bit of the Saving Private Ryan fast-motion camera work as well that is as nauseating to me as it was in that movie, but it's not used that often. A lot of the shots are rightfully taken through the scope of Beckett or Miller's rifle.
Chad Michael Collins is the lead here and he does a fine job, though Zane's character trumps him in the coolness stakes. Chad makes for a very believable young soldier and I must not be the only one to think so; his previous roles on TV have been soldiers almost consistantly. Being a sniper movie he doesn't get any punchfighting in - it's all strictly firearms in this movie - but it's all very solid material. Pistols get pulled out for close encounters and it's all very clean and methodical on the goodies side, with the baddies firiing automatic weapons wildly at anything that moves. All except for the antagonist of the piece, the mysterious sniper that shot Beckett in the beginning. A small bond builds between Beckett and Miller and there's a couple of decent scenes of Miller training his new sniper protege.
I guess I should mention the eye-candy of the piece, newcomer Annabel Wright as Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz. Her inclusion is pretty limited and it feels as if the producers hired her then worked out what to do with her afterwards. There's a brief, restrained sex scene where you don't get to see much of anything and then she's occasionally holding a pistol or wearing an officer's uniform. Not much to the character at all. All the other characters serve their purposes well but they just couldn't give her a decent part.
I really enjoyed Sniper: Reloaded overall. The acting was good accross the board, the action was quality and asside from a few boring moments in the middle - mainly during the forced attempt at building a relationship between Beckett and Abramowitz - it moves at a swift pace with a few good twists and turns. The ending sets it up for a fifth movie in the franchise too, and if the quality is at least as good as Reloaded I say bring it on.
Typically gorgeous anamorphic widescreen print with explosive surround sound that we've come to expect from modern action films. The african landscapes pop on the screen and the night-time scenes are not crushed into blackness. Runtime 91 minutes.
Region 1 disc from eBay for about $10.