‘Shooter’: Almost an Exciting New Thriller

Ken Tucker
Yahoo TV
(Photo: Dean Buscher/USA Network)

Shooter, based on the Bob Lee Swagger novels by Stephen Hunter and premiering Tuesday night on the USA network, has a lot going for it. Ryan Phillippe stars as super-marksman Swagger, and he does an even better job than Mark Wahlberg did at embodying this tough-but-sensitive character. (Wahlberg is an executive producer of the show.) The 2007 film was directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), who’s an executive producer on this show; the TV series has some tense, tight pacing. And the plot is based on Hunter’s Point of Impact, the first and one of the best of the Swagger series.

The story follows Swagger, an ex-Marine, as he’s framed for an assassination attempt on the president. He escapes arrest and sets off trying to prove he’s innocent and to uncover the truth about why he’s been set up. Early on, there are some exciting scenes of Swagger’s skill, and a couple of well-choreographed fight scenes, particularly one in the second episode, set in the tight confines of a prison cell. The supporting cast is solid, especially Omar Epps as a Secret Service man who served overseas with Swagger, and Shantel VanSanten as Swagger’s wife, Julie.

As the series proceeds, however, it becomes less about Swagger and his action-heroism and more about an elaborate — and sometimes ludicrous — conspiracy plot involving the CIA, the Secret Service, and the FBI. Sometimes the dialogue is a tad florid. (“I’m gonna do what I do best. I’m gonna hunt.”) In general, the further Shooter strays from Phillippe’s character, the weaker the show becomes.

Shooter has had a difficult time making it to broadcast. It was set to premiere in July but was postponed twice due to real-life shooting incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The show itself doesn’t exploit or glorify gun violence, unless you think that any show featuring a gun does. Phillippe is good both as a serenely calm sniper and as a happily devoted husband and father. I guess I wish the show’s narrative had the kind of stripped-down focus that Bob Lee Swagger brings to his shooting.

Shooter airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on USA.