When you think about, a sniper is a perfect job for Steven Seagal in a movie. He doesn’t seem to like roles that require much movement, yet expects to be able to shoot about forty nameless pukes in every movie. As a sniper, Steve not only doesn’t have to move a lot, but for much of the time he can even lean lazily against sandbags just waiting for the perfect shot! In the opening scenes of Sniper: Special Ops you almost wondered if his spotter was asking him “now?” repeatedly just to make sure the big lug hadn’t just gone and dozed off!
But it wasn’t all just chillaxing in his sniper nest. Inevitably, the mission to rescue the package (some congressman whose presence in this war zone was never satisfactorily explained despite the film trying to make it seem nefarious) goes FUBAR and Steve has to improvise by carrying a wounded comrade up some stairs and then sitting at a table for almost the rest of the movie. (He does go up and down the stairs one more time, ostensibly for water and a med kit, but probably just to get a break from the feverish prattling of his wounded pal.)
But if he’s just sitting at a table until enough footage can be shot so that film’s distributor won’t get sued for pretending that this is a Steven Seagal movie, how is the other 80 minutes filled up? Didn’t you know? This movie stars Seagal and Van Dam!
That’s right! It isn’t a typo! Finally Steven Seagal and Rob Van Dam share the straight to video small screen! And if it feels a little misleading, let’s be honest, if you’re watching a new Steven Seagal movie in 2016, you’re just as fine with RVD in the movie as you would be with JCVD. RVD fits in perfectly in a Seagal movie because he doesn’t do anything either, being one of the special ops guys who ducks behind trucks and shoots a bevy of extras decked out in their “Adult Sized Middle East Insurgent” costumes.
It’s easy to take a Seagal-sized crap all over the folks who make Seagal films since they’re generally varying degrees of terrible, but it isn’t really fair to them. A Seagal movie, despite usually looking like it was shot in about four days, is the hardest type of movie to make.
In normal films, the star is the main focus of the story, most likely about some journey he or she takes and the challenges that are faced and overcome along the way. With Seagal as your star though, there is no journey and no crisis to overcome. He’s a gargantuan action movie zombie mindlessly lurching (or sitting, as in this movie) from gun fight to gun fight. He rarely speaks and when he does he’s mumbling something silly, thus forcing other characters through awkward exposition to fill us in on who his character is and his motivations. Worst of all is that when Steven Seagal is headlining your movie, he’s rarely in more than half of it.
It’s this absent star situation that really screws with the ability to tell any sort of coherent or interesting story. In Sniper: Special Ops, it leads to the film spending the majority of the time with the rest of the special ops team attempting to recover a broken down supply truck with periodic check ins on Steve still stuck back in the town where the first mission went balls up.
Dopey plot developments like the admiral’s daughter who stows away on the mission and turns out to be an expert marksman feel like filler while the discovery of the the daughter-in-law and grandson of the Taliban’s leader in the back of the supply truck is the sort of coincidence necessary to finally bring Seagal back into the main part of the movie. (The special ops team is going to trade the two to get Seagal and the wounded man out of the town.)
The film makes no effort camouflaging its meager budget as the middle part of the movie is literally just guys shooting at each other around two trucks in the wilderness. Likewise the beginning and end of the film occur on the same desert town street set, while what passes as the climax has Seagal standing on a rooftop shooting bombs after RVD’s detonators failed. Character development consists of Seagal muttering something about a brother killed in Desert Storm, him looking at a picture of a woman and dog (you couldn’t tell who he missed more) and him finally taking off his sunglasses at the end of the film.
Director Fred Olen Ray is an old hand at these cheap action movies and undoubtedly wrung as much as he could from he was given, but in this case that’s no compliment. Still, even our best baseball players fail 70% of the time and if it’s one thing Steven Seagal fans know, he takes lots of at-bats.
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