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‘Shooter’ starts strong, then spins out of control

Wahlberg makes a great hero, but story makes it hard to suspend disbelief. By Christy Lemire

The name of the movie is “Shooter,” and for a while director Antoine Fuqua is right on target with this claustrophobic tale of conspiracies, lies and double-crosses.

Ultimately, though, it collapses — as so many action films of lesser intelligence do — into a seemingly eternal series of explosions and false endings.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger (seriously, that’s his name), the hero of Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter’s novel “Point of Impact,” which provides the inspiration here.

Swagger is a reclusive former Marine sniper who’s been hiding in the Wyoming mountains ever since a botched mission in Ethiopia that left his partner shot to death. Wearing a trucker hat and facial scruff that would have made him look just as much at home among Brooklyn hipsters, Swagger enjoys a quiet life with his loyal, beer-fetching dog. (Their friendship is actually surprisingly sweet.)

One day, government honchos pull up to the cabin (we know they must be bad guys because Elias Koteas is one of them) and ask him to take part in that tried-and-true one last job.

The government has learned of a planned assassination attempt on the president, retired Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) tells him, and Swagger must figure out how the shooter would do it in order to prevent it.

But then when the shooting happens anyway in Philadelphia, Swagger is framed for it and goes on the run. With the help of inexperienced FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) and his partner’s widow, Sara (Kate Mara), Swagger outwits, outplays and outlasts dozens of heavily armed adversaries from a variety of agencies, both official and unofficial.

Yes, he’s a highly trained military stud in the classic cinematic tradition of Rambo, but eventually his ability to survive grows ridiculous. Fuqua (“Training Day”) stages a car chase through the streets of Philly that can be thrilling, and for a while you feel like you’re right there alongside Swagger as he figures out one move after the next.

Then come the plot holes, the cartoonish performances (especially from Ned Beatty as a crudely drawn, corrupt Montana senator) and — oh, yes — the stuff that gets blowed up real good, including a sport utility vehicle, several helicopters and an entire log cabin.

Did we mention? Swagger makes his own bombs from a few items he and Memphis picked up at the hardware store. Each blast feels more gratuitous than the last, as does the needless abuse of Sara in a particularly unseemly blend of sex and violence.

Fuqua’s film, from a script by Jonathan Lemkin, is far more powerful in its small, quiet moments — and indeed there are some. Mara (“We Are Marshall,” “Brokeback Mountain”) can be subtle and lovely as the lonely, young woman who’s startled by Swagger but also strangely drawn to him. The tight, visceral cinematography from Peter Menzies Jr. adds to the tension.

And Wahlberg, all buffed and stoic, continues to solidify his screen presence as a believable action hero — a working-class guy who believes in honor and loyalty, just like you and me, only with bigger biceps.

Unfortunately, no amount of physical strength could keep this movie from spinning out of control.