A good soldier, suitable for framing

With a name like Bob Lee Swagger, you've got to be either a Stetson-hatted country star, a pasty-faced psycho killer, or an ex-Marine sniper who's retreated to Big Sky country, living in the woods with a dog and some guns.

In Shooter, it's the latter. Mark Wahlberg, fresh from his terrifically abusive Beantown cop role in The Departed, is woolly and taciturn as Swagger, a recluse who left the Marines with a bad taste in his mouth - a stealth mission that ended tragically, with higher-ups abandoning him for dead.

Now, he's on top of a mountain, as close to living off the grid as you can get and still have Google access.

One day, an SUV full of G-men rolls up at his door. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), a retired military man, needs Swagger: Intel reports that a long-range marksman is plotting to assassinate the president, and Swagger, with his legendary ballistics skills, can help the feds map out potential target sites, likely vantage points, the killer's m.o.

Pulling out the old "patriotic duty" card, Col. Johnson gets Swagger - instinctively wary but a good soldier, and a good American - to agree. After scouting Washington and Baltimore, it's on to Philadelphia, where the prez is awarding a medal at Independence Hall, and where church spires and bridge pylons miles away could afford a crack marksman a clean, lethal shot.

Everything's going according to plan, until a portly Philly cop walks in on Swagger as he's casing a building, at the same moment an assassin fires at the Independence Hall podium. And Shooter, directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, kicks into wheel-screeching, pedal-to-the-metal action mode.

A chase movie and a pretty crafty thriller, Shooter owes a lot to Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor, in which CIA researcher Robert Redford returns from lunch to find his coworkers dead, gets head-deep in conspiracy, and has to run for his life - from his own employers.

Wahlberg's Swagger has been set up, framed, gift-wrapped for the FBI to collar. But Swagger's survival skills and smarts have been underestimated - he's already commandeered a car and is racing around Center City and Northern Liberties, cops and helicopters on his tail. (It's an exhilarating chase sequence, even if bits of it were filled in later, in a city that clearly isn't Philadelphia.)

Adapted from Stephen Hunter's novel Point of Impact by Jonathan Lemkin, Shooter ricochets from Philadelphia to the Southern states and back out to the Rockies, with pit stops on the Beltway, where Ned Beatty plays a fat-cat senator in cahoots with Col. Johnson and his cabal.

Michael Peña, as a new FBI recruit who's figured out that maybe Swagger isn't their man, gets buddy-pic time with Wahlberg, and Kate Mara plays what passes for romantic interest - a young widow Swagger seeks out when he's in need of a hiding place, and in need of gauze, bandages and stitches.

Shooter unravels a bit heading toward its finale, as buildings explode and characters are forced to explain themselves and their nefarious motives. But the payoff at the end - at once kind of radical and gratuitous - delivers a wallop. And Bob Lee Swagger drives off into the night, more than likely to reappear a few years from now in a sequel.

Shooter *** (out of four stars)

Produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Ric Kidney, directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Jonathan Lemkin, based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter, photography by Peter Menzies Jr., music by Mark Mancina, distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 4 mins.

Bob Lee Swagger...... Mark Wahlberg

Nick Memphis. . . Michael Peña

Col. Johnson. . . Danny Glover

Sarah Fenn......................... Kate Mara

Sen. Meachum. . . Ned Beatty

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@philly

news.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.