Sniper: Special Ops full movie review - Steven Seagal of the Desert
As Army sharpshooter Jake Chandler, Steven Seagal drills a neat surgical hole through a Taliban fighter's small flask before he perforates his forehead with another shot.
No sooner has he dropped this Taliban fighter in his tracks than another appears, and Jake ices him, too. Writer & director Fred Olen Ray is acclaimed for movies about women in bikinis rather than straight-forward actioneers. Under another name, he made "Bikini Chain Gang," "Bikini Royale," and "Bikini Girls from the Lost Planet." Before his breast fetish days, Ray helmed several direct-to-video action thrillers, including "Armed Response" with Lee Van Cleef, "Terminal Force" with Richard Harrison, and "Commando Squad" with Playmate model Katy Shower. Mind you, Fred Olen Ray is no Spielberg. He specializes in low-budget, exploitation fare, but he displays more than enough competence to keep things going. The derivative "Sniper, Special Ops," with Tim Abell, Dale Dye, and Rob Van Dam, doesn't qualify as one of Ray's run of the mill outings. The adverb 'seriously' best describes the way this movie takes itself, and this attitude enhances what could have amounted to little more than disposable military maneuvers in a wasteland. You cannot watch this gritty, low-budget, patriotic, military mission movie without remembering Clint Eastwood's "Sniper," with Bradley Cooper as real-life U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
During the violent opening gambit in "Sniper, Special Ops.," Seagal's sniper caps many threats to Sergeant First Class Vic Mosby (Tim Abell of "We Were Soldiers") and his team. Mosby and company are searching for abducted Congressman Stan Cooper (John Henry Richardson of "Panic 5 Bravo"), who has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. During the withdrawal, Seagal and his spotter cannot reach the rendezvous. Now, Seagal and company find themselves surrounded and trapped by the enemy. What sets "Sniper, Special Ops" apart from the typical Ray movie is heroes don't crack jokes, get drunk, or brawl. Ray shows the terrible consequences of war, with scenes in a plywood infirmary as a soldier experiences the loss of his sight. At the risk of overstating the obvious, Fred Olen Ray has departed from his usual fare. Most of the story takes place on the ground with our heroes exchanging gunfire with the Taliban. Ray keeps the cameras focused on the Americans, while the Taliban soldiers pose as targets. Indeed, the only departure from realism is the inclusion of a female news correspondent who proves that she can handle an automatic pistol with the expertise of Wild Bill Hickox.
Although executive producer Seagal takes top billing, the primary protagonist is the eminently reliable Tim Abell. Abell gives a tenacious performance, and he looks believable in his combat gear. Anyway, once Mosby's men have gotten the Congressman, they come under fire from several turban-wrapped Taliban troops. At this point, Chandler trades his massive sniper rifle for an assault rifle and mows down Taliban troops. Eventually, a convoy consisting of two vehicles careens into the derelict city. An adequate amount of shooting and killing riddles the first few minutes. During this firefight, Chandler and his spotter are separated from Mosby and company. Chandler and his spotter take refuge in an anonymous building. Meantime, Mosby takes the Congressmen back to headquarters, but he isn't happy about leaving Chandler behind. Ray shifts the setting back to base where Lieutenant Colonel Jackson (Dale Dye of "Platoon") is arguing with an embedded NATO correspondent Janet (Charlene Amoia of "Seven Pounds") chafing at the bit to get into the thick of the gunfire despite the Colonel's best efforts to keep her at headquarters.
The chief problem with this contrived, standard-issue actioneer is its utter lack of urgency. This is the kind of thriller that "Bourne Supremacy" director Paul Greengrass could had injected a surfeit of intense energy into each incident and made our teeth rattle with every shot. Greengrass would have lensed it hand-held cameras to thrust audiences into the middle of all the chaos. As it is, Ray keeps the action slogging along without any sense of spontaneity. In just under 30 minutes, Chandler and his wounded spotter Rich (Daniel Booko of "The Hunger Games") have found sanctuary in an upstairs room. Since they cannot communicate with their comrades, they are especially vulnerable. Back at headquarters, Mosby fumes about the situation. He thinks the Congressmen's capture stinks, and he complains about too many suspicious things about the Congressmen's mission. Later, Jackson explains that the Congressman was on a fact-finding mission "to prove that all our efforts are just a waste of time and money." The politician wanted to visit an abandoned village, and the Taliban nabbed him. Initially, Colonel Jackson refuses to let Mosby rescue Chandler and Rich because they are short staffed. Instead, Jackson orders Mosby to find a broken down supply truck with the guidance of a native renegade, Bashir (Anthony Batarse). Naturally, Janet takes advantage of this prime opportunity to stow away aboard the truck with an unsuspecting Mosby and his men. When they get to the stalled truck, Mosby discovers that an Afghan woman with a child is with them. Ultimately, he learns that the girl is the daughter of notorious Taliban leader Abul (Shary Nassimi of "L.A. Nights") who rules the territory that his men and he are. Abdul is reminiscent of a World War II villain. Although he is Afghan, he speaks English fluently. In a sense, "Sniper, Special Ops" channels World War II Allied propaganda features.
In the name of realism, Ray says he bought ten-thousand rounds of blanks so he wouldn't have to insert flare bursts and the ejected cartridge casings with CGI in post-production. The actors are blazing away with blanks and the brass flies. Steve Seagal fans are going to gripe because the martial arts maestro doesn't perform any of his antics. He has the best line in the movie: "If a man does his best . . . what else is there?" "Sniper, Special Ops" ranks as a fair movie.