This review was written for the theatrical release of "Shooter."

"Shooter" is a whopper of a tall tale, a heady brew of conspiracy theories, post-9/11 paranoia, nonstop action and improbable heroes and villains. Certainly the right director is at the helm here -- Antoine Fuqua, whose "Training Day" and "The Replacement Killers" demonstrate a strong visual sense and ability to shoot and edit thrillers so that tension mounts with each sequence.

If the movie only lavished as much thought and care on its characters as it does on each intricate set piece, "Shooter" might have been a classic. As it is, the film, which stars Mark Wahlberg, is definitely a cut above the average action thriller, so boxoffice looks promising in domestic and overseas markets.

At the heart of "Shooter" is the old Hitchcock chestnut about a wrong man fingered for a crime. In this instance, the guy is framed and can only clear himself by hunting down those actually culpable. Bob Lee Swagger -- gotta love that name! -- may be innocent, but he's no innocent. Swagger (Wahlberg) is a highly trained Marine, survivalist and sniper. His trademark line is that the government spent a lot of time and money teaching him how not to die -- just after they taught him how to kill.

An opening sequence in Ethiopia has him and a spotter (Lane Garrison) abandoned by the U.S. military on a mission "inside a country we are not supposed to be in." His spotter is killed, but Swagger makes it out alive, just in time to quit. Three years later, the U.S. government comes calling.

Tracking Swagger to an isolated mountain cabin, shadowy officials led by Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) approach him outside of regular channels. An intercepted communique on the inside has tipped them off to a plot to assassinate the president in the next few weeks. All that is known is that the shot will come from a mile away.

Johnson pleads with Swagger to scout the locations of the next three presidential personal appearances and use his skills and experience to determine how and where the attempt will happen so it can be foiled. Audience members' bullshit detectors, honed by years of watching thrillers, will alert them that all is not right with this group and their story.

Nevertheless, Swagger swaggers back into action and concludes that the hit will come in Philadelphia. Isaac thanks him, then asks him to come along to Philadelphia, you know, to act as a scout.

Yep, it's a setup.

The next thing Swagger knows, he is running from the point of the shot with two bullets in him and every cop, Secret Service and FBI agent in the country eager to capture him dead or alive. In the case of the turncoat government officials, the options are dead or dead. One peculiar thing, though: The shot missed the president and instead killed the Catholic archbishop of Ethiopia. Hmmm, Ethiopia again.

The movie kicks into high gear with the manhunt. Swagger, whose photo is everywhere, must escape his myriad pursuers, heal himself of two potentially fatal wounds, then hunt down the real perpetrators. The only person he can turn to is a woman he has never met -- Sarah (Kate Mara), the widow of his late partner in Ethiopia. She buys his story and has enough nursing training to heal him.

Turns out, Swagger has help on the inside too -- Nick Memphis (Michael Pena), a rookie FBI agent he disarmed while fleeing the scene. (No reason is given why an FBI man would be doing a Secret Service job.) Humiliated and facing termination, Nick doesn't believe the official "lone gunman" theory. The more he investigates, the more he sees a conspiracy.

Adroitly using locations ranging from deserts to mountain wildernesses, isolated country homes and the streets of Philly, Fuqua keeps the movie pounding at viewers. The editing is swift and sure, and Mark Mancina's music is reminiscent of a Giorgio Moroder score back in the disco era.

Plot holes and absurdities abound, too numerous to mention, but the real flaw lies in the screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin, working from the novel "Point of Impact" by author-film critic Stephen Hunter. His characters are all stick figures. Good guys do good, bad guys do bad, and there is little concern for ascribing motives, sentiments, emotions, backgrounds or beliefs to anyone that would allow actors to actually build characters.

Those playing villains fall back on physical shtick reaching back to the silent era. The worst offenders are Elias Koteas and Ned Beatty. Wahlberg and Mara play clean, decent, good old American malcontents, but these are actors capable of more. Wahlberg also could use a few more lines -- and lines he actually speaks rather than mumbles.

Only Pena, who is fast accumulating a number of impressive supporting roles, manages to suggest an interesting character: an FBI agent who never goes strictly by the manual.

Technically, the film is terrific. The stunt work is top-notch, while Peter Menzies Jr.'s camera aggressively prowls the various landscapes in search of unique angles.

Paramount Pictures
A Di Bonaventura Pictures production
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriter: Jonathan Lemkin
Based on the novel "Point of Impact" by: Stephen Hunter
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Ric Kidney
Executive producer: Erik Howsam, Mark Johnson
Director of photography: Peter Menzies Jr.
Production designer: Dennis Washington
Music: Mark Mancina
Costume designer: Ha Nguyen
Editors: Conrad Buff, Eric Sears
Bob Lee Swagger: Mark Wahlberg
Nick Memphis: Michael Pena
Col. Isaac Johnson: Danny Glover
Sarah Fenn: Kate Mara
Jack Payne: Elias Koteas
Alourdes: Rhona Mitra
Michael: Rade Sherbedgia
Sen. Meachum: Ned Beatty
Running time -- 125 minutes
MPAA rating: R