Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 19, 2010)
As a resident of the DC metropolitan area, I remember well the panic that occurred in the fall of 2002 when we were subjected to random sniper assaults. Man, did we get paranoid! The shooters betrayed little pattern, so we fretted most of the time and even became afraid to stop at gas stations.
Given my personal experiences, I was interested to check out DC Sniper, a flick about the assaults. Fanatical nutbag John Mohammed (Ken Foree) and his teen disciple Lee Malvo (Tory N. Thompson) drive around the DC area and shoot randomly chosen civilians. In the meantime, FBI Agent James Rogan (Chris Kriesa) works the case.
As a low-budget, no-name direct-to-video project, I didnít expect much from Sniper, but I didnít rule out all hope that it might be a good piece of work. Sure, it probably cost about $27 to shoot, and its biggest star remains best known for his role in 1978ís Dawn of the Dead. However, that didnít ensure doom for Sniper. Heck, Dawn and its predecessor Night of the Living Dead were bare-bones, star-free efforts too, and they both were good.
Alas, Sniper will never be viewed as a classic ala those George Romero zombie flicks. At a mere 75 minutes, one might expect it to offer a tight, zippy take on its subject. Instead, it rambles and waddles around the screen. The plot meanders to the extreme and rarely makes any sense. Sniper refers to real elements of the case Ė Mohammedís ďmanifestoĒ, the panic about white vans Ė but it never comes together to create any real drama.
Thatís despite the fact that it sets up the film as a pretty standard ďcat and mouseĒ crime story. Under traditional rules, weíd get tension from the crimes and the FBI agentís attempts to solve them. This never happens.
The FBI subplot couldnít possibly be more extraneous. Agent Rogan wanders around town a lot but never actually does anything. In an insane twist, the filmmakers give Rogan his own sub-subplot in which he goes George C. Scott when his daughter starts to make Internet porn.
Why? I have no idea whatsoever. I guess to attempt a character arc for Agent Rogan, or maybe just to fill time. I wouldnít think itíd be tough to get 75 minutes out of a case and rich as this one, but the filmmakers really struggle.
Which is why we end up with endless shots of DC streets. Sniper just loves to wander around town and show various pedestrians and stores. I guess this attempts to illustrate the randomness of events, but it doesnít succeed in that endeavor. Instead, it simply makes the movie slow-paced and dull.
The filmís chatty nature doesnít help. Nothing happens that doesnít get reams of dialogue, as none of the characters can stand to leave any thought unexplained. Matters become especially absurd when we find ďtestimonialsĒ offered directly into the camera. In the first one, Mohammed talks about how he went into a dark place after some goon dressed as a superhero snubbed him as a kid.
Thatís it? Mohammedís psychosis occurred because Superman didnít shake his hand when he was six? Yeef Ė thatís just kooky, and the flickís attempts at psychology are misguide at best.
The filmís poor script and aimless pacing are bad enough, but its amateurishness compounds those problems. Shot on video, the film consistently looks ugly, and the acting doesnít fare well. Some performers work better than others, but none of them provide turns that remotely bring the characters to life.
This reaches an absurd low budget extreme when we see German director Ulli Lommel take on a small role as a Texas cop. Lommelís character spends so little time on screen that this doesnít have a huge impact on the tale, but Lommel still looks silly and out of place. Even with only a couple of lines, itís so abundantly clear that heís from anywhere but Texas that the scene becomes unintentionally amusing. (Lommel also displays ample ego, as he bills himself second among the cast although he barely appears in the film!)
I wonít even bother to address the flickís historical accuracy Ė or lack thereof. Sniper isnít a documentary, so I donít expect it to deliver flawless accuracy. I do expect it to reproduce the sense of dread and fear that pervaded the DC area during the fall of 2002, though.
In that way Ė and virtually all others - DC Sniper fails. The movie barely reaches feature length but seems to run forever, and it never remotely threatens to become a coherent, engaging drama. Instead, it feels like something made by high school students over a long weekend.
Bizarre footnote: whatís with the disclaimer at the end of the movie? You know the one: ďAll events and characters in this motion picture are fictitious. Any similarity to persons dead or alive is purely coincidentalĒ. Seriously? A movie about characters named John Mohammed and Lee in which they shoot people around DC in the fall of 2002 has no connection to real events? Yeah, itís all a coincidence!