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During the last two weeks the big stu­di­os have done their best to put the rub­bish out before the Spider-Man band­wag­on rolls all over them.

First, and best, is Shooter which makes the unfor­tu­nate mis­take of cast­ing Mark Wahlberg in the lead instead of someone with tal­ent (like say, Vin Diesel, or The Rock) but turns out to be a pacy and well-constructed con­spir­acy thrill­er dir­ec­ted with wit by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). It helps that all the sec­ond­ary roles are filled with great wild-eyed char­ac­ter act­ors like Ned Beatty (Deliverance), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch), Elias Koteas (Thin Red Line) and the legendary Levon Helm, drum­mer with The Band (and star of Coal Miner’s Daughter back in 1980).

Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, sharp­shoot­er, brought out of retire­ment to foil a plot to kill the President. He’s been done like a din­ner, though, and then has to use all his train­ing (he’s the best of the best, as you might expect) to find out how high this cor­rup­tion goes: to the the very top is what I’m thinking.

I enjoyed this one in spite of myself and you know a dir­ect­or isn’t tak­ing a film too ser­i­ously when all the cus­tom­ers in a hard­ware store look like the work­ers in the Tui factory.

Meanwhile, on “Oscar-winner Career Suicide Watch” we wit­ness Halle Berry and Hilary Swank make more poor decisions. In Perfect Stranger, Berry plays a cru­sad­ing journ­al­ist (who writes anonym­ously, get­ting the heavy-handed imagery under way early). A girl­friend tips her off about top ad exec Bruce Willis and his mul­tiple affairs and when the girl­friend turns up mys­ter­i­ously not-alive Berry invest­ig­ates with the help of computer-wonk Giovanni Ribisi (who actu­ally does most of the actu­al invest­ig­at­ing). Complete rub­bish from start to finish.

Swank, at least, turns in a per­form­ance in The Reaping where a small bay­ou town is being vis­ited by bib­lic­al plagues. Swank is a reli­gious phe­nom­ena de-bunker and is sent to find a sci­entif­ic explan­a­tion for the blood, frogs, boils, etc. She is a former ordained min­is­ter who lost her faith when tragedy struck her fam­ily in the Sudan. Sure enough, her faith in her athe­ism is put to the test with pre­dict­able res­ults. The Reaping is slick and well-made, with a few jumps, but ulti­mately disposable.

Our own Karl Urban gets his name above the title for the first time as a Viking Red Indian in the styl­ishly pho­to­graphed non­sense Pathfinder. Looking like he’s spent more time in the gym than the act­ors’ stu­dio recently, Urban plays Ghost, a Viking boy left behind to starve when their first attempt to con­quer North America fails (inex­plic­ably). When the Vikings return, Ghost has grown and is the only brave who knows how to wield the iron blade and save the tribe until the bul­lets come hun­dreds of years later to do the job prop­erly. The viol­ence isn’t par­tic­u­larly well dir­ec­ted and there isn’t much apart from viol­ence in it, so it’s ulti­mately very hard to recommend.

Finally, one for those of us that want a quieter life: Driving Lessons is anoth­er safe, English, com­edy about a young man’s coming-of-age. This time the life-lessons for mummy’s boy Rupert (Ron Weasley) Grint come from age­ing act­ing has-been Dame Evie Walton (Julie Walters pulling out all the stops). Grint’s form of tal­ent­less non-acting is ideal for this sort of thing. You already know wheth­er you’ll like this or not; it had me crawl­ing the walls.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times; Wednesday, 2 May, 2007.