Review: Sniper: Special Ops

An American Special Ops group led by Sergeant Mosby (Tim Abell) and featuring crack sniper Chandler (Steven Seagal) are conducting a mission to rescue an idiot American congressman who got himself in serious shit kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. After the mission is complete, Chandler stays behind with a wounded soldier while Mosby and the rest of his men (perennially laidback professional wrestler Rob Van Dam among them) are ordered by Lt. Col. Jackson (Dale Dye) to go out on another mission, rather than go back for Chandler and the wounded soldier. So off they go on a munitions extraction mission, and when they arrive at the munitions truck, they find the daughter-in-law of a Taliban leader is there along with her baby. That’s when things get a little more complicated, though also provide opportunity for a potential assistance to Seagal and company who are pretty much sitting ducks at this point. Charlene Amoia turns up as an annoying reporter with an Admiral for an uncle and a hidden talent for marksmanship. Yep.

Oh this is clever. I see what you’re doing there, putting Seagal and Van Dam on the poster and trying to sucker people in. Pay close attention though, because while that is indeed the very, very fat Steven Seagal, his co-star in this 2016 film is not The Muscles from Brussels, it’s The Whole F’n Show: Former WWE/TNA wrestler Rob Van Dam, not Jean-Claude Van Damme. Being a wrestling fan on-and-off for about 30 years now, this wasn’t a disappointment to me, though the real star here isn’t either of those two who are given supporting roles. The real star here and frankly the only real ‘actor’ involved is Tim Abell. Take a look at who is at the controls of this thing though, that’s the really interesting here: Written, produced, and directed by the one and only Fred Olen Ray, king of the subpar direct-to-DVD T&A flick of the 80s and 90s. You may remember him as the director of such ‘classics’ as “Cyclone”, “Commando Squad”, “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers”, and “Beverly Hills Vamp”. This all sounds gleefully terrible, right? Fred Olen Ray. Steven Seagal. Rob Van Dam. All working together on one film. Part of me wishes the film itself were as interestingly awful as it sounds, but it’s not. It’s a stock-standard military-themed direct-to-DVD action movie, really. For what it’s worth though, it’s actually pretty competent, if completely unmemorable and doesn’t really answer the question of why Fred Olen Ray is still a thing in 2016-17 or how the hell he ended up here. For what it’s worth, he proves a much better director than screenwriter.

Seagal serves as EP for the film and is cast as the world’s fattest sniper, which means he doesn’t need to move or bother getting into shape. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Seagal’s contract states. For 99% of this film he’s in one spot and he barely gets any dialogue. Wouldn’t want to get tripped up by any confusing words while you’re picking up a lazy pay check right, Steven? The film was shot in 20 days and I’d wager Seagal was present for maybe two of them at most. Oh, and his goatee looks more fake than ever, either painted on or at least dyed to get rid of grey hairs. You ain’t fooling anyone, buddy. You’re super-grey under all that grease paint. Hmmm, he’s friends with Putin, so maybe I should ixnay on the lazy fat, grey-haired bastard stuff. In a half-hearted attempt to mask the contempt he has for everyone and everything here, Seagal spends the entire film behind a pair of sunglasses. Dude could be napping for half of his scenes for all I know. Even then, he grimaces through his minimal participation in the film. You helped produce the fucking thing and you’re still half-arsing it for your handful of scenes? Who do you think you are, Bruce Willis? Oh, wait…Brucey gives no fucks these days, either. Shameful, but then I keep watching Seagal’s films anyway don’t I?

Tim Abell has clearly been thrown in here to give us at least one genuine actor (and he’s also a legit ex-Army Ranger), since Seagal doesn’t give two shits and RVD is laidback to the point of a near coma-like state of calm (An attitude that does have its charms, mind you. And yes he does get to point to himself at one stage in the film to please the fans of his schtick). Abell is rock-solid and the film is lucky to have him, as the two bigger name stars barely get anything to do. As for leading lady Charlene Amoia, she’s appallingly obnoxious in a poorly thought out role, that presumably wasn’t meant to be so irritating. She reminds me of a dark-haired Kari Byron from “Mythbusters”, and I found Kari phenomenally annoying on that otherwise addictive science-and-explosives-based show.

To Ray’s credit, the opening 15 minutes of the film is really exciting stuff for what was likely a miniscule budget largely devoted to the Krispy Kremes Seagal presumably took as payment here. It’s hardly an original story (or much story at all), but I’ll take competent over…some of the other shit Seagal has made over the last 15 years or so (The likes of “The Foreigner”, “Out for a Kill”, “Attack Force”, and “Flight of Fury”). I was actually surprised, but perhaps getting a veteran C & D-grade filmmaker to make what is a C+ grade action film was a pretty smart idea, instead of hiring some newbie from a music video background. It’s pretty generic stuff, but it’s better than some A-budget films of this sort that I could name. For one thing, pacing is very much this film’s friend. Ray keeps this thing on the move for the most part and it’s all the better for it. It gets in, gets out, no dicking around. Well, almost no dicking around. Every cutaway back to Seagal just shows how pointless and unnecessary his character is. It adds nothing and he adds even less. Take him and the aggravating Amoia out and you have a better film, albeit a film with pretty unconvincing ‘Muslim’ terrorists with what look like jumpers over their heads. I also would’ve liked more scenes with veteran military technical advisor Dale Dye, even though he looks unwell and is playing his stock-standard military bigwig role. He’s kinda iconic at this point, and fun to have around.

Well-shot and well-paced and for what it is, this minor action film will please fans of this kind of low-budget thing. I think it’s a bit generic but far from the worst film Seagal has made over recent years. It’s watchable and competent, I’ll take that as a win of sorts considering I was expecting bottom-of-the-barrel stuff at best.

Rating: C+


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