Wading into the morass of Steven Seagal’s filmography isn’t exactly the easiest of tasks, especially considering how convoluted things can get once the direct-to-video territory is breached. It’s hard to place 2016’s Sniper: Special Ops exactly where it belongs, as a bundle of other releases seem to have hit the fray around the same time. Regardless, here we are.
Fred Olen Ray serves as director of Sniper: Special Ops, which should not be considered as any kind of relative to the 1993 Tom Berenger vehicle or any of its subsequent sequels. It is a military procedural picture, with plenty of inside baseball to wade through. Characters speak almost entirely in jargon, which is apparently supposed to make things feel more authentic.
Seagal stars as Sergeant Jake Chandler, one of the best snipers in the entire goddamn galaxy. He’s entrenched in Afghanistan with Rich (Daniel Booko) and he’s providing support to a team on the ground led by Sergeant Vic Mosby (Tim Abell) when all hell breaks loose. Mosby is able to escape the firefight along with most of his unit, but Jake and Rich have been pinned down and are stuck.
Mosby returns to base with Vasquez (Rob Van Dam) and the others, where he tries to tell his superior officer (Dale Dye) that they have to turn back. The lack of resources on the base makes it a no-go, but Mosby and Vasquez get put on a recovery mission for a truck that presents unique opportunities.
There is a further complication in the arrival of Janet (Charlene Amoia), who is the movie’s token female. She’s an embedded reporter with, wait for it, NATO and she’s the niece of an Admiral. She’s Ivy League-educated, which puts her in stark contrast to Mosby’s high school edumacation. It’s also revealed that she’s also an “expert marksman” and a “professional magician.” One of those is true.
Sniper: Special Ops spends most of its time with characters discussing a plan, explaining the implementation of the plan and attempting to execute the plan. There’s a lot of distrust, like when the congressman (John Henry Richardson) is rescued and the audience is told he’s a proponent for slashing military spending. Ruh roh.
Sometimes, Abell seems to be on to some sort of conspiracy. He wistfully looks off somewhere, explains that something doesn’t smell right, repeats. His suspicions seldom matter, as there really is no extension of the congressman plotline apart from shaping it into a political point. Similar red meat is exhumed throughout the pic, like when the bad guy reveals he took four years of “liberal arts.”
The professional wrestler Rob Van Dam sports the ponytail in this one and his character is sort of Mosby’s right hand. He spurts out all the typical “look over there” lines and doesn’t have much personality to speak of, except when he does half of his signature wrestling taunt at the end as Janet takes his picture.
Speaking of Janet, she’s a dumbass. She wields the camera like some sort of exasperating weapon, using it to photograph everything and anything of inconsequence. Despite the constant reiteration of her field pedigree, she behaves like she’s never even seen a gun before until she actually starts saving the day. At one point, she moseys into the middle of a firefight to snap a photo of who knows what.
The battle sequences, lensed by Ray favourite Stuart Brereton, don’t matter much. There are cuts of characters shooting in all directions followed by frames of other characters shooting in all directions. Sometimes someone actually gets hit and sometimes something actually blows up, but only in that cute CGI way where the fire looks like crap and the scene cuts away without warning.
For those wondering, Steven Seagal is indeed in this movie. He spends the majority of his time sitting in a chair sporting the goatee he debuted in 2013’s Force of Execution. At one point, he makes a brief trip to use a radio (this in and of itself makes no sense given the circumstances). He also shoots in random directions using what’s apparently a custom gun. And that’s it. Literally.
Those seeking out some hot Seagal action will be hard-pressed to find it in Sniper: Special Ops. This is Abell’s show and he leads the charge with plenty of brusque exposition and terse soldier talk. Like many movies of its breed, this is the stuff of blood-lusty fantasy. War is tough, war is for men and, best of all, war is essential.